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Emergency Lockdown Drills – Should All Ages Participate?

Preparing kids for an emergency is like walking a fine line. Practice makes perfect, but many parents fear drills meant to prepare students for emergency lockdowns will introduce new fears to children and leave them feeling unsafe at school. So, should you conduct lockdown drills with students – especially younger students? The answer is a resounding yes. All schools should conduct drills to emergency lockdown drills and adapt them to meet the emotional and intellectual needs of their student body.

 

Elements of a Successful Lockdown Drill

Lockdown drills don’t have to be scary. For any age, a successful drill includes:

  1. A plain language alert that all staff, students, and visitors can hear and understand
  2. Participants making their way to a secure area of the building
    • Seek shelter behind a door that can be locked, barricaded and/or tethered
  3. Participants seeking cover and concealment within their safe space
  4. Participants silencing cell phones, closing blinds and shutting off lights
  5. Protocol to ensure everyone is accounted for

Lockdown drills should be conducted with regularity and variety.

  • Regularity – We recommend at least two times per year, or as required by local regulations
  • Variety – Conduct the drills at different times of day. Try to initiate drills when children are in different areas of the building;

Note that an explanation of the “why”—the reasons behind the drill is not critical to a successful drill.

 

Conducting Emergency Lockdown Drills with Young Students (Childcare, Preschool, Elementary School) – It’s All About Protocol

Practicing for lockdown scenario with young children is all about enforcing proper movements and protocol, without going into details about the reasons for the drill. There is no need to introduce the idea of intruders or violence. Teachers can explain the drills as ways to practice being safe. Teachers should use plain language to explain what is happening and what the children can expect. For a fire drill a teacher might say, “Sometimes, in order to be safe, we have to leave the building quickly and quietly.” Teachers can use the same strategy for a lockdown drill and say “Sometimes, in order to be safe, we have to turn off the lights and sit in this corner of the room. Today we are going to practice.”

Teachers should clearly and calmly explain: what noise will indicate the start of the drill, where students should go, how they should behave during the drill, and what else will happen in the area (the teacher will turn off the lights, close the shades, lock the door etc.). With practice, students will become familiar with the protocol.

Teachers benefit immensely from practicing with students as they get the opportunity to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their emergency plan and can adapt to better prepared to keep the students safe (Did all of the students fit into the closet like as planned? Did any students stand out/present themselves as needing special assistance in future drills?) When emergency drills are conducted regularly and without a sense of danger or panic, they become routine.

 

Conducting Emergency Lockdown Drills with Older Students (Middle School, High School) – Add the “Why”

Many of the same basic principles apply when conducting lockdown drills with older students – teachers should use clear language to explain what is happening and what is expected of the students. With older students, it can be beneficial and appropriate to introduce the “why” element to the drills and make the drills more realistic. Match your explanation of the “why” to the students’ emotional maturity.

Giving context to the drills can instill a sense of importance, and encourage students to take the drill more seriously.  Making a lockdown drill slightly more realistic can train students to react and follow protocol even when there is a sense of danger.

 

Conducting Emergency Lockdown Drills with Staff Only – Add an Element of Realism

During teacher training sessions, it is useful to conduct drills without the students. Schools can simulate emergency situations in much more realistic detail, giving teachers the opportunity to understand how they naturally react under pressure, and how they can improve. Teachers and staff will be the leaders during any real-life emergency situation and they should be trained to feel fully confident in their ability to react in a lockdown scenario.

 

Always remember – a plan is only as good as the people implementing it. In the event of a real lockdown, teachers and students will be accountable for carrying out the plan. Age appropriate training for all is critical to a successful response.

Is Your School Ready to Shelter-In-Place?

Officials in Baltimore, Maryland launched into emergency response mode after a chemical leak occurred in the area. Local news reported that Chlorosulfonic acid was released into the air during an incident at a chemical plant, causing immediate danger for the everyone in the area. The city responded by issuing a shelter-in-place advisory for residents within a one-mile radius of the spill.

Shelter-in-place describes the response to a non-human related threat and is distinctly different from “lockdowns” or “lockouts” which are issued when a dangerous person is in the area. Severe weather and airborne hazards spark shelter-in-place situations. Weather is the most common factor of shelter-in-place scenarios. Many schools routinely conduct shelter in place drills for weather related emergencies by having staff and students respond to the most structurally sound portion of the facility away from exterior windows and doors.

As was the case in Baltimore, schools may be required to shelter in place due to airborne hazard which are often the result of tanker truck and commercial railway spills, or accidents at factories or plants. Because the reason you may be asked to shelter in place may be very different, your school’s response needs to be tailored to each specific threat.

After the spill in Baltimore, city officials responded by quickly advising people in the surrounding areas to shelter-in-place. They activated social media accounts and the phone emergency alert systems to advise people of the danger. The alerts were effective because they were timely, concise and provided specific direction. One tweet read, “Due to @BaltimoreFire activity, residents in 21060 21225 & 21226 are being asked to shelter-in-place, close windows & limit time outside.” These alerts were crucial as they sparked emergency responses throughout the affected area.


If you learn your school is under a shelter-in-place advisory due to a hazardous release, would you be prepared? Schools should have specific shelter-in-place response protocols, customized to their building. Some general guidelines are:

Designate a location or locations with few windows that can fit staff, students and visitors.
Close all windows and doors.
Seal all cracks and vents using plastic sheeting and duct tape.
Have additional supplies including nonperishable food, water, first aid kits, battery powered radios and telephones in order to be able to communicate with concerned parents.
Shut off HVAC systems.
• Communicate to ensure everyone knows when the shelter-in-place begins and ends.

Releases of hazardous material spills can happen anywhere, so have a plan that you can efficiently execute to minimize exposure to staff and students. FEMA provides a comprehensive list that schools can reference for specific guidance. The California Department of Public Health, Know When and How to Shelter-in-Place for Schools is another good resource for schools.

Luckily, the shelter-in-place in Baltimore only lasted for an hour and there were no reported hospitalizations due to this accident. Still, it serve as a reminder that emergency situations of any type can happen at any time and school administrators and staff need to be prepared beforehand. Stay safe and have a plan.