Is your school lockdown plan giving you a headache?
How to keep people safe and remain compliant
The phrase ‘lockdown’ means different things to different people. Pharos Response are frequently asked by schools to support them in this less familiar area of operational management, which is why we have created this blog – an interview with the Pharos security lead and MD, Julian Penney.
Whilst most schools have a lockdown plan or procedure of some kind, some still don’t have anything they feel confident they could rely on in a real situation. This may be due to a lack of understanding of what is required, insufficient time to dedicate planning for a low likelihood event, or just a lack of resources available. Whether your school has a plan or not, the following interview aims to answer some of the questions around why and how to successfully prepare for a lockdown scenario.
Prior to COVID, the very word ‘lockdown’ immediately brought to mind the news reports of shootings in schools in the USA. Fortunately, the reality for most UK schools is that lockdown plans would be used for much lower threats than faced by schools in the USA. This could include a serious road traffic incident outside the school gates, a nearby dangerous dog, escaped convict, a police incident, or even an environmental incident such as an industrial fire. In these situations, the full lockdown that people tend to think of (hiding under desks and barricading doors) would be an over-reaction but a response involving keeping students inside may be necessary and proportionate. A simple Google News search for “school lockdown” shows how frequently this happens and how media coverage is generated, even for the least serious incidents. Without procedures in place, the situation can deteriorate leading to far more serious consequences.
There can of course be lower likelihood but higher threat situations, such as an armed intruder in the school grounds. The increase in physical security and other incidents in and around UK schools in recent years has necessitated a response to keep both pupils and staff safe.
To help school leaders in producing such plans, DfE published guidance in November 2019 which is specific to school and college security. This contained some excellent content that may have been missed by colleagues as, shortly after publication, full attention was needed to keep up with the rapidly evolving COVID operational guidance. We find that client schools are unfamiliar with this DfE guidance and the action steps that they should be taking.
Assessing the risk
Whilst physical security risk is of course generally low for most schools, it may be tempting to rely on this and the lack of previous incidents. However, we would certainly counsel schools to dedicate some specific thought and preparedness around physical security.
Why should schools have a lockdown procedure?
Schools should have a lockdown plan in place for practical and legal reasons: as an employer, schools must obviously comply with the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASAWA) and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR). Part of these regulations includes security for staff and emergency processes, on a general level.
Of more direct relevance, DfE guidance is clear that schools and colleges should have a plan in place and a competent person ready to lead on this plan. I don’t think anyone would disagree that the moment to write a plan is not in the immediate aftermath of an emergency. There have been multiple examples of situations necessitating lockdown in the last 12 months; some tragic and in national news, whilst countless other less serious situations have arisen that never make the headlines.
Are we required to have a lockdown procedure?
Although there is much sector-specific guidance and implied laws, there is not currently a law that specifies a school must have a lockdown procedure. However, we draw your attention to a piece of draft legislation that will be launched over the coming year called the Protect Duty. This is different to Prevent (from a safeguarding perspective) and focuses on security planning. The new Protect Duty, also called Martyn’s Law and drafted in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombings, intends to keep people safe and to scale preparedness and protection from terrorist attacks. It highlights the importance of being prepared and increasing public safety.
The draft Bill will place greater responsibility on large public venues – such as sports stadiums, arenas and shopping centres – but it is likely that many schools will come into scope of this when it is launched. The good news is that the DfE and the Home Office agree that most safety and safeguarding policies already in place at schools should be sufficient. Of course this means that these policies need to include measures for safety response as well as safeguarding in the first place.
What is a dynamic lockdown?
As mentioned before, the requirements for lockdowns will vary significantly depending on the type and level of threat. In the case of a serious incident outside of the school gates, asking all students to hide under their desks would not be proportionate but keeping all students inside the school building until the police have resolved the situation would be an appropriate response. There are clearly too many different types of incidents and threats to create a specific plan for every one and so a dynamic approach is recommended. This means ensuring that key people are able to assess a situation, and to choose and implement the response appropriate to the immediate threat, swiftly and with confidence. A full lockdown is thankfully unlikely, but the chances of needing to carry out a more limited response is relatively common on a national scale. Locking the gates, external doors, bringing pupils indoors and controlling who comes in and out of the site is a form of lockdown that we (at Pharos) normally refer to as a perimeter lockdown. The difference between this and a full lockdown is often what schools wrestle with, so we recommend having two procedures.
A common concern when developing a lockdown plan arises when there is no alarm that is different to the one used for fires. A lockdown would normally require students to remain in their classrooms (and all visitors to remain inside the school), but mistaking the lockdown alarm for a fire alarm could cause confusion or even some people evacuating the building: the exact opposite of the intended response.
What are the recommendations from the Department for Education?
DfE guidance states, “The lockdown procedure should be practised at the start of each term and the head teacher should ensure that all staff are trained and aware of their roles should a lockdown be required… All staff should know what to do to protect themselves and students from harm, safeguard the estate and be able to determine when it is appropriate to contact the police and other emergency services.”
Their guidance includes information on responsibilities, how to get started on your security policy and plan, how to identify internal and external security risks, and what preventative measures could be put in place.
To read the DfE guidance please visit the government website here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/school-and-college-security/school-and-college-security
What should a full lockdown procedure contain?
In addition to the immediate actions to follow for staff supervising pupils in classrooms, a lockdown procedure should provide guidance instructions for members of SLT who will be making decisions before emergency services involvement. This procedure should then include details such as:
- Clear designation of responsibilities i.e. who will make the decisions to lockdown the school?
- The need to liaise with police for advice, and make decisions until this is received and / or they attend to provide support.
- When to decide between a full lockdown (i.e. everyone kept in classrooms and offices with doors and windows locked) and a perimeter invacuation/lockdown.
- How this will be communicated across the school site.
- Who should lock gates, doors etc and how they will be informed of this requirement.
- How and when to communicate with parents/guardians.
In addition to the senior management response, all colleagues (teaching and support) should be informed of the lockdown procedure in their area of the school. We recommend providing staff with an immediate action card for a full lockdown with a series of prompts to help colleagues think clearly when under potential stress. We recommended this be printed on a different colour paper from normal teaching resources, laminated and kept in classroom/office desks so that it is easy to access. It should emphasise the need to lock doors and windows, keep out of sight, lights and telephones switched off (to give the appearance of unoccupied rooms) and the need to remain in the same place until a police officer or identified senior colleague instructs them otherwise.
School policy should also contain the frequency and manner of rehearsing lockdowns, the necessary staff training and the key contacts in emergencies.
What are the common pitfalls that schools can fall into?
There are a number of common pitfalls that we see when working with schools. A few of the most common are not having a procedure in the first place, having a procedure that confuses perimeter responses to full lockdown, a lack of training and confusion over which alarm signal to use.
Not having a procedure
The most crucial issue in the case of a required lockdown is not having a fully thought through, practical procedure. If you consider the likelihood of a fire and the frequency of fire drills, it follows that having a comprehensive and regularly practiced procedure for lockdowns is also important.
Lack of training
Another common pitfall is a lack of training for staff and pupils. Do they know the difference between a fire alarm and a lockdown alarm? Do they know what to do when they hear a lockdown alarm? Contrary to fire alarms and the emergency procedures in place for fires, there is no mass congregation in one or two locations: how will staff and students know when the lockdown is over? Rehearsing lockdown responses is likely to iron out many issues and give colleagues confidence in what to do (although we normally recommend practising with staff only if it is your school’s first time!). Rehearsals can be done in an age appropriate way with younger pupils and we normally recommend that parents be informed of lockdown drills so that they can answer questions back home if necessary.
The physical alarm infrastructure is another common concern. There are plenty of options for systems that are designed specifically to communicate the need for a lockdown to the whole school but these may be cost prohibitive to install on a whole school basis. It may be possible however to use an existing alarm system infrastructure but this won’t work if there’s no way to differentiate between fire and lockdown alarms. So, if the existing system won’t work and there is no available budget for a custom system, what alert systems can be used? IT based solutions that use existing hardware provide a beguiling and cost effective opportunity but we urge caution against relying solely on emails, alerts and on-screen notifications to notify colleagues of an immediate and serious security threat.
Finally, when the barriers to creating and implementing a successful procedure seem insurmountable, it can be hard to know how to progress. Whether those barriers are financial or due to a lack of knowledge and expertise, it is imperative to work on a plan that resolves these barriers rather than putting it off indefinitely.
If you have lockdown questions we’ve not answered here, feel free to contact us.
How can Pharos assist schools with lockdown planning
Our accredited security consultants have many years’ professional experience within policing and the military. But more importantly, we have been trusted to work with a large number of schools across the state and independent sector to help prevent incidents before they happen, and to prepare for critical and complex incidents.
School Lockdown Procedures
Lockdown site visit and consultancy with bespoke lockdown policy/procedures drafted for your school.
£795+VAT per school (discounts for multiple schools)
School Lockdown Rehearsal
Practise your lockdown procedures during this twilight on-site session which will include feedback on your school’s lockdown policy and practical lockdown procedures, a lockdown rehearsal as well as a security briefing for staff. Delivered by former police and security specialists.
£795+VAT per school (discounts for multiple schools)
School Crisis Simulation Exercise
A desktop crisis simulation exercise for your school’s incident management team to rehearse their critical incident response. During this crisis management training you will manage the incident as if for real, plan the school’s response and field calls from the press and parents (played by Pharos actors).
Desktop exercise only (up to half-day) £995+VAT
Training and extended desktop exercise (up to a whole day) £1,350+VAT
Critical Incident Plans
A comprehensive review of your school’s critical incident plan with detailed feedback and discussion around your risk profile and most likely incident. Is your emergency response or critical incident plan really going to assist you when it’s needed? Does it include press statement templates and social media guidance? If not, you could risk falling at the first hurdle.
School crisis plan review £495+VAT
School crisis plan review and rewrite £1495+VAT
If you have any questions about school lockdown plans or would like to find out more about how Pharos can help your school establish and maintain emergency procedures, please get in touch on 01183 800 140 or email@example.com
Julian Penney is co-founder and principal consultant at Pharos Response. He has over 20 years experience managing risk within the education sector, is a former Army Officer and is a Member of The Security Institute. Julian reviews every security survey conducted by the team of security advisers at Pharos and keeps up to date by visiting UK and international client schools to assist with their physical security and crisis management preparedness.