school lockdown
Education premises are generally well prepared for minimising the risk from fire; detection systems are in place, alarms are installed and regularly checked, and students and staff are routinely required to participate in evacuation drills. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that there are other risks specifically related to security that schools and colleges face. These types of risks require a very different response and might even necessitate a full school lockdown. The terrorism threat has already prompted many schools to review their procedures. While the recent lowering of the threat level to ‘substantial’ is a step in the right direction, it still means attacks within the UK are viewed as likely. There’s also the worrying trend of increasing levels of knife crime. And while the risk from firearms is perhaps not as great as in some other countries, it should never be discounted. With an overall escalation of risk, the whole subject of school security is taking on a renewed level of importance. Education boards are now identifying it as an issue schools have to make a top priority as part of their duty of care. Increasing numbers of local education authorities are requiring formal school lockdown procedures that stipulate all the necessary actions depending on the threat situation. What is lockdown? Educational establishments have taken significant steps in recent years to prevent unauthorised people being able to easily access buildings. Most have mitigating measures in place to limit access such as locking gates, using intercoms and requiring people to attend reception areas before being able to enter other parts of premises. But the need to be able to lock down a building is a significant shift in security requirements. The aim of a lockdown is to use physical measures to both stop people moving into dangerous areas, and prevent the individual or individuals intent on causing harm to be able to access and move around the site. It needs to be able to provide robust security within seconds, securing not only doors and gates but every potential access and exit point. The lockdown alarm needs to be distinct from all other alarms so there can be no confusion, leading to students and staff evacuating and putting themselves in greater danger. Depending on the risk level, a ‘two stage’ lockdown approach might be appropriate, with different alarms being used to denote this. For instance, the threat might not be specifically directed at the school or college but an incident within the immediate vicinity could mean it’s necessary to quickly go into the first stage of school lockdown to minimise any potential risk to staff and children. A full dynamic lockdown procedure would then initiate locking all doors, windows and every other point of access, along with actions like closing window blinds to prevent perpetrators seeing in to identify where people are located. It’s vital that building users understand their role both in minimising risk and in a school lockdown situation itself. Students need to be reminded of the importance of not leaving doors open that should be kept closed, or opening doors to people if they don’t know who they are. Carrying out lockdown drills combined with sensitive explanations of why they need to be done will also ensure children are familiar with what to do and less likely to panic. The role of access control technology Access control technology has a very significant role to play in enabling a fast lockdown. It can be integrated with existing systems, or installed on its own, to enable educational establishments to be secured as fast as possible. Depending on the kind of access software used, schools can choose different levels of functionality. Multiple levels of lockdown can be available depending on the nature and location of the threat. It can prevent normally authorised users from accessing doors. Some will prevent access except for specifically authorised users (like staff or other responders). Some can be set to prevent exit as well as access. It can all be operated very simply with the required combination of doors being secured in seconds by a physical push button or on-screen button with notifications instantly sent to the emergency services too. It’s even possible to install hardware on windows; if integrated with access control technology a signal can be sent to lock them as well. Access control solutions are clearly beneficial in non-emergency situations as well, offering security protection day to day and providing an extra layer of security when the buildings are unoccupied at night. Do you need to review your approach to security? It’s essential to regularly review approaches to security in educational premises to make sure the procedures in place continue to be fit for meeting the changing nature of the threats. Further information about the development of dynamic lockdown procedures is available in this National Counter Terrorism Security Office guidance. And if you need specialist security advice about your educational establishment, please do contact us.