Today’s children are exposed to ever-increasing rates of violence. We often associate this violence with schools, but what about violence in the church setting? Church shootings — including recent incidents in Colorado — have left over 25 dead in recent years. Federal law requires schools to practice fire and tornado drills several times a year to develop preparedness, while various states require facilities with paid, licensed child care to do the same. (Check with your state government to determine where your facility falls under the laws.) These drills work to reduce the disorganization, confusion, fear, panic, and potential injuries that may occur during a live event. Some states have added an additional required practice drill — the lockdown drill.
A lockdown is just as it sounds — all entrances are locked to prevent anyone from entering or exiting the building without permission or authorization. The intent is to isolate kids and teachers from an active threat. The threat doesn’t necessarily need to be an armed person entering your facility with the intent to cause harm. It could also be inadvertent, such as someone running from the police; a vicious, loose animal; or a hazardous material spill close to the facility.
Create a Plan
It’s imperative to prepare a lockdown plan before you need it. Use these tips to create your plan.
- Create a detailed site map. Diagram your facility to include all rooms, exits, closets, bathrooms, doors, and windows. A thorough map is critical; your staff, responding law enforcement, and paramedics will use it in an emergency. Provide
updated copies annually to law enforcement, the fire department, and your central administration office. Include a copy in each classroom along with first aid information.
- Conduct a walk-through. Evaluate all doors and windows to make sure they function properly and aren’t easily defeated when locked. Make sure interior doors can be locked from the inside and without a key. It’s best to have all lock cores on the same tumbler system, allowing for one master key to open all doors. You can still continue your regular level of restricted access to various parts of the building with different core locks for different doors. Provide all master keys to your local law enforcement agency at the same time you distribute your facility map.
- Evaluate your communication system. Consider installing a public address system that can be heard inside the
building, the exterior, and any outbuildings. Purchase portable communication devices such as affordable family service radios for mobile communication. Install landline phones in all classrooms and offices. Equip church leaders with cell phones so they can be in constant contact with outside authorities to give and receive essential information.
- Enlist professional help. Invite local law enforcement to visit and evaluate your church — they’re more than willing to provide insight and assistance with your plan and often have a person who specializes in this area.
- Equip your building. Place laminated cards with emergency procedures in every classroom for reference in case a lockdown occurs. Consider stocking rooms with other useful items such as bottled water, flashlights, and first aid kits.
- Keep updated roll lists. Maintain attendance charts in each classroom so leaders can account for children and adults.
Practice Your Plan
Determine whether you’ll practice an external or internal threat, then proceed according to each threat situation in the following manner.
External threats take place outside your facility or campus. Your goal is to prevent the external threat from entering your
- Communication – Alert occupants with a broadcast announcement as to the nature of the threat — use plain English (no code words) to avoid misinterpretation or confusion. You may consider using the fire alarm alerting everyone of an
emergency announcement. (Alternative tones must be used in jurisdictions that prohibit sounding the fire alarm tone when there’s no actual fire.) Next, you would immediately notify local authorities of your situation by dialing 9-1-1.
- Lockdown – Designated personnel should quickly lock all exterior doors and windows. Consider any kids who may be outside the building at this time; you may choose to have an exterior rally point for them to gather with an adult, and retreat to a secondary location or move them into the building as safely as possible. Teachers should take roll call of all kids and adults in their rooms using the maintained lists in each classroom.
- Instructions – Depending on the threat, regular activities may be continued without interruption inside the facility. If there’s potential for real violence, teachers should move kids into classrooms, away from doors and windows, and cover
windows to avoid detection. Ensure no one leaves the building without authorization or until an all-clear command is given.
An internal threat exists when the cause of danger is inside your facility or campus. Your goal is to seclude adults and children in safe, secure areas while the threat is removed.
- Communication — Make an announcement as you would for an outside threat, and then immediately notify 9-1-1.
- Lockdown – Designated personnel should immediately lock all exterior doors and windows and check hallways and restrooms for kids to get to safety. Lead kids who are outside the facility away from the building to a safe location. Seclude
leaders and kids inside classrooms, offices, or anywhere available — avoiding areas that can’t be locked. Take roll. An armed intruder inside your facility is likely walking the building looking for victims. It’s essential to not be seen or heard —
create obstacles between the threat and potential victims by locking doors, covering windows, and staying out of sight.
- Instructions – Remain in place until an all-clear command sounds over the public address system. Don’t open
doors or windows for anyone unless you can easily confirm the person isn’t a threat through identification precautions. Let rescuers find and come to you.
- Coaching – Train your staff on the emergency plan and on techniques to remain calm in a crisis. Talk about staying level-headed and the importance of keeping the children calm in a crisis.
Eric Rogers is a retired police officer who served eight years on the special weapons and tactical team.