Specialist lockdown systems for Schools and Educational Facilities

What is Lockdown?

Lockdown means the ability to secure all areas of a building against a potential threat.  Many view school lockdown procedures as a line of defence against an intruder with malicious intent.  Whilst this is true, there are many other reasons lockdown may be required.  These include:

  • A reported incident / civil disturbance in the local community (with the potential to pose a risk to staff and pupils in the school);
  • An intruder on the school site or in the premises (with the potential to pose a risk to staff and pupils);
  • A warning being received regarding a risk locally, of air pollution (smoke plume, gas cloud etc);
  • The close proximity of a dangerous animal.

How does it operate?

School lockdown systems are designed to close and lock all external doors, usually via a network of electro-magnets although other locking systems can be used.  In addition, internal doors can be included in the system in case the intruder has already entered the building.

Every lockdown system is unique, and customised to your own school facility and activities/procedures onsite.

What to do in a Lockdown?

This largely depends upon the nature and layout of your facility, and the potential risks you perceive onsite.  Typical actions in a school lockdown situation will include:

  • Alerting staff to the activation of the school lockdown plan by a recognised signal, audible throughout the school,
  • Bringing pupils from outside into the school buildings as quickly as possible,
  • Locking all external doors and windows as necessary,
  • Having arrangements for staff to notify the school office of any pupils not accounted for.

Communicating During a Lockdown

During a school lockdown, one of the most important things to consider is good communication.  Uncertainly can bring out the most irrational and unpredictable aspects of human nature, whilst also delaying a correct response to the incident.  That’s why it’s essential to consider the following points:

  • Training, so that everyone understands their role in a school lockdown situation to prevent unnecessary panic.
  • Communication with all staff during the event. Consider a paging system, or an instant messaging group such as WhatsApp for keeping everyone informed.
  • Communication with Emergency Services if required. Have a designated procedure/personnel for this task.
  • Communication with Parents/Guardians, to keep them informed and avoid them coming to the school during the incident.
  • Surrey County Council have issued some helpful advice on this latter point – https://www.surreycc.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/95561/LOCKDOWN-GUIDANCE-FINAL-SUMMER-2016-web-version.pdf

Choosing / implementing your own School Lockdown alarm system

This partially depends upon the nature of the systems you already have onsite, your available budget and whether you’re looking at protecting a brand new school build or new system fit out, or trying to achieve the best possible result with the systems you already have onsite.

REMEMBER – there are no set rules for school lockdown systems.  It is a matter of finding out what is best for your facility.  Choose an experienced and versatile partner who can help you find the best solution for your own specific requirements.

Raising the Alarm:

Firstly, remember that your School Lockdown Alarm is a more unique and application-specific solution than your fire alarm system, and you don’t have a set ‘code’ of rules to comply to.  Typically, your lockdown alarm will be activated manually by points close to the main entrance doors.

Start off by looking at your site security strategy and the building layout.  If the only place that an unauthorised person can gain access into your school during teaching hours is via the main reception, then you should have a manual ‘lockdown activation’ switch there, and possibly also in the staffroom and headteachers office.

If your facility is comprised of multiple separate buildings, you may also need additional manual ‘lockdown activation’ devices in these areas.  Alternatively, what is the procedure for staff to contact the main reception / security office in an emergency requiring a full school lockdown?

Additionally, you need to be able to avoid false school lockdown alarms by malicious or accidental activation.  For this reason, we recommend keeping your lockdown activation points with in staff-only areas, or using a key-activated type call point unit (with all staff carrying the key) to help prevent false alarms.

Alarm Types / Tones

There are a wide range of options for raising the school lockdown alarm which we’ll cover below, but first you need to consider these points:

  1. Is your lockdown alarm tone sufficiently different from the Fire Alarm or Class Change systems?
  2. If not, would proper staff training ensure that they can accurately distinguish between the different alarm sounds?
  3. Will the students within your school be with staff supervision at all times? If not, (i.e. college environment) then your alarm tone must be sufficiently different that everyone can understand it.  Preferably, a voice alarm or tannoy message with additional instructions would provide the best solution in this application.
  4. Depending upon the complexity of your site, do you need to have precautions on your final exit doors (i.e. door isolations / illuminated signage) to ensure an intruder cannot enter the building via deliberate or accidental assistance from inside?

Fire alarm / Class change system (with a different bell sound);

  • This is usually one of the most cost-effective ways to achieve the lockdown alarm.
  • Depending upon the type of systems you already have, it may be possible to use the existing alarm / bell infrastructure to sound a different type of alarm (pulsing vs. continuous) to signify a lockdown situation.
  • If using this route, staff training is essential to ensure they can accurately distinguish between the two alarms and react accordingly. Consider the points noted above to ensure that this solution is a viable option for your facility.

Voice Alarms (sounders/speaker system that can deliver different pre-recorded messages);

  • Voice alarms are one of the best ways of clearly delivering specific messages for specific alarm types. With multiple message alerts available on a single system, voice alarms can deliver different alerts for lockdown, fire alarm and any other requirement.

Illuminated warning signage over exit doors (Visual Alarm Devices);

  • A great solution to warn people inside, not to evacuate the building or open the doors to people outside during the lockdown duration.
  • Illuminated warning signage over the exit doors
  • Scrolling message board

Onsite Tannoy System;

  • Some of these systems can be equipped with pre-recorded messages. An electronic input from your school lockdown control system can trigger these messages / tones to play in the event of an emergency.
  • A tannoy system is also a great way to make site-wide announcements during a lockdown to keep everyone informed.

Paging System;

  • This is great way to communicate messages to staff members throughout the facility, allowing them to then implement the schools lockdown procedure.
  • This technique may be a good alternative to raising a general alarm in applications where a lockdown alarm could cause unnecessary distress to your students.

Security system door isolation, to prevent unauthorised admission of an intruder from inside;

  • One of the biggest concerns during a school lockdown, is the accidental or malicious admission of an intruder into the building via one of the exit doors.
  • This is particularly a concern if there is a risk of persons misinterpreting the lockdown alarm for a fire alarm, causing an evacuation to the external assembly point.
  • Your access control system may be able to isolate the final exit doors around your school, to prevent them from being opened during a lockdown.

Security systems to isolate the reception and waiting areas from the rest of the school;

  • The most obvious place for a potential intruder to enter your school building is through the front door. Having a reception and greeting area which is isolated from the rest of the school building is a simple and inexpensive way to prevent unauthorised access into other areas.
  • A simple code or keyfob operated door lock is an ideal solution for these areas.

Fire Alarm VS Lockdown Alarm

The two alarms have completely opposite meanings:

  • If your school is in lockdown, everyone is supposed to stay inside with the windows and doors locked.
  • If the fire alarm is activated, everyone is supposed to evacuate to an central external assembly point.

Evacuating the building means exposing yourself to the intruder!  Staying in the building means potentially running the gauntlet with fire!  So how do you find any middle ground?

The concern of course is, that the fire alarm system could be used maliciously – evacuating the building during a lockdown, and forcing persons into a potentially harmful or dangerous situation.  However, is it safe or practical to ignore a fire alarm?

How to react to a simultaneous alarm activation

This is a complex issue, which can largely depend upon your facilities layout, the systems/procedures you are using for your lockdown and the fire alarm system itself.  It may be possible to;

  1. Totally isolate the fire alarm sounders during a lockdown, but have a manual fire-watch in place
  2. Isolate the manual call points during a lockdown, to reduce the chances of a malicious evacuation.
  3. Have a ‘stay put’ strategy during a lockdown, regardless of fire alarm activations. This would require a very well-considered safety plan, liaison with the fire service, and absolute confidence in the passive fire protection of your facility.
  4. Have a policy to delay evacuation for 60 seconds in the event of a fire alarm activation while lockdown is in action. This would allow time for an announcement over the tannoy to alert everyone whether they should evacuate or not

Whatever procedure is in place, every responsible person must be aware and trained in what to do, otherwise the resulting confusion could cause a potentially harmful and dangerous situation occurring.

Useful Resources

NaCTSO (National Counter Terrorism Security Office) guide on lockdown procedures.

Download NaCTSO Guide Here

We would also recommend that you download the Central Bedfordshire Council’s guide “Lockdown Procedures, Guidance to schools and academies – (November 2013)”.  This document provides some useful guidance on creating your own lockdown strategy.

Download CBC School Lockdown Guide Here

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