In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook and nearly thirteen years after the Columbine shooting, perhaps the most important advance in school security  is the realization that lockdowns are simply inadequate.

This is not to diminish the importance of programs like threat assessment or the advances in physical security.  Unfortunately no amount of physical security can stop every external attack and even the most robust threat assessment programs can fail to identify potentially violent behavior in time to stop all attacks stemming from students or employees.  Therefore, it is vital that campuses implement intruder response plans and training to mitigate the impact of a violent intruder and maximize survivability for occupants.   This requires more than a simple lockdown.

The primary objective of any security measure should be to mitigate risk.  A second, less critical objective, may be to reduce anxiety.  Lockdown plans and drills are great at reducing anxiety.  Unfortunately, they do very little to mitigate risks from an active shooter/mass killer.   A lockdown drill helps campuses respond extremely well under reasonable conditions.  To effectively mitigate an actives shooter, campuses must prepare to do reasonably well under extreme conditions.

Passive Targets=Easy Victims

When law enforcement officers counter a shooting incident, the hit ratio is around
12 to18 percent.  School shooter’s hit ratios are dramatically higher, with some as high as 80 percent.  The difference is not attributed to shooting skill, but rather the passive response.

  • In mass killings, the available targets are predictable and stationary.
  • In police shootings, police are in fear for their lives and the suspect is not passive.
  • In a school shooting the shooter does not have pressure or fear and victims are passive
Moving beyond the Lockdown

When security and prevention measures fail and a shooter is in your school; you have only three response options – Run, Hide, or as a last resort – Fight.


If you have direct contact or you cannot secure your location – RUN.

An example of when to implement a “Run” approach may be if you are in the cafeteria when a shooter enters. Since the shooter is already in the cafeteria there is no point in attempting to implement a “Hide”; so you order the students to run out through the kitchen and side exit.


While no location can offer total protection from a shooter, implementing a “Hide” inside a securable location provides some degree of protection. The purpose of a lockdown is to delay or slow down the shooters progress until law enforcement arrives.

While locking the door is a vital component, there are methods of reinforcing the lockdown that can further deter an attacker. These methods are called target hardening and can include:

  • Barricading doors: use desks, chairs, shelves, etc. Note, barricades are most effective if the door opens towards the barricade. However, even if the door opens away from the barricade (usually into the hallway), stacked objects can delay and possibly deter an attacker.
  • Tying off doors:This action limit the attackers ability to open doors; even if they are unlocked. Generally, tying off doors is used to reinforce doors that open out (towards the hallway) where barricades have limited value. There several methods ways to tie off doors and more than one should be attempted:
    1. Tie one end of a belt or electric cord around the handle and secure the other end around a corner and out of site. If the end cannot be secured, have several people hold it, while around a corner and out of site. This will reinforce any type of door.
    2. For handicap accessible handles (levers that are pushed downward to open the door), chair or stool legs may be wedged between the handle and door, with at least 1/4 of the chair extending beyond the doorframe. When the door is pulled to open, the chair catches on the door frame.
    3. Doors that have folding hinges above the door may be reinforced by tying the folding hinge tightly so that it cannot expand and allow the door to open.

Take Out or Fight

If the attacker is in your immediate area and blocking your path and there is no way you can Lock Out or Get Out; You must then fight back using any available means.

When fighting back, use any available weapon such as a fire extinguisher, chair or even books.

The Fight option is to be used as a last resort.

Teaching or discussing with students the Fight option is not recommended. The Fight option is no different than any other emergency, staff and faculty must take charge and provide clear direction.

For instance, if the Hide option is failing, and Run is required through a ground floor window, it is imperative the teacher direct students. This direction should include not just to  climb out the window, but where to go next.

If the Fight option is required, the teacher should prepare the students with clear and confident instructions. Should an attacker be attempting to defeat a secured room (Hide) and Run is not possible the teacher should order students to grab books and chairs and to throw anything and everything they can find at the attacker should he attempt to enter the area.

Whether it is a campus shooting or an act of terrorism, attacks from violent intruders are as much of a fact of life as building fires and natural disasters. To prepare for this threat, leaders are faced with the following decision-making possibilities:

  • Do nothing and hope nothing happens.
  • Do nothing and it does happen.
  • Do something and nothing happens.
  • Do something and it happens.

This post is provided by Brad Spicer, CEO of SafePlans (, an all-hazards preparedness solution including emergency plans, staff training, and detailed site mapping.

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