Emergency Procedures in Schools Across the Country are Failing

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April 21st, 2017

Since our launch, I have had several conversations with educators across the country about their emergency procedures. Across grade levels, public, private, and independent schools are all saying the same thing: lockdown drills need to be improved.

A special education teacher explained that in Alabama, elementary students are asked to keep canned goods in their desk. Younger students are asked to bring in small tuna cans, and older students are asked to bring in larger cans. In a lockdown situation, students are asked to grab these canned goods, and go to a safe location of the classroom, and then throw them if an intruder enters. At this school, there is no way for teachers to communicate if someone had entered their room, or if they needed assistance.

An elementary, public school teacher in New Jersey, explained that they use the color-coded card system. During a lockdown, students move to a corner of the room, and the teacher tapes a sheet of paper on the window. Green to indicate if all students are in the room are accounted for and safe, or red if they are in danger or missing a student.  This teacher explained that there is no additional way to communicate the number of students in their room. The concern with these procedures is that this also could indicate to an intruder that there are students in their classroom.

A public high school teacher in Pennsylvania simply checks the hall for threats and students walking around. They shut and lock doors, turn off lights, and then move into a shared room and sit on the floor with teachers and students.  This teacher explained that most rooms in their school have a shared room or lab attached to them that is used for group work, planning, or in some cases, or storage. Students are supposed to be quiet, and sitting against the wall. If the lockdown happens between classes, teachers are to take as many students in as safety allows, and then take roll once secure. In the drill situation, this attendance list is submitted after the drill. This teacher explained that although a real situation has not occurred, they assume in a real situation it would also be submitted once things were deemed safe.

Middle school teachers at a K-8 public school in Pennsylvania explained that the school secretary announces a lockdown over a loudspeaker by saying, “This is a lockdown- locks, lights, out of sight.” Teachers, check that the door is locked, a student shuts the blinds, and they all huddle in the back of the classroom. They sit silently in that location until an administrator arrives and unlocks the door, which means a lockdown is over. When I asked what happens if a student is missing, they explained that they had no clue, because it was never discussed with the faculty. They added that there have been times when parents or students have come to school with guns, or there have have been fights on their campus, so a lockdown is called. Frequently, there are still students walking around or in the bathroom, and teachers are unaware of their location. These teachers said sometimes all they can do is pray that everyone is safe.

There were countless other teachers that were interviewed, and many of them reported the same thing- communication is something that is lacking during a lockdown drill or when a real emergency happens. In most of our nation’s school systems, lockdown drills need to become more effective. Lines of communication need to be opened. Teachers need to be provided with the tools to take a headcount of students during an emergency, and be able to communicate this information with administrators and law enforcement personnel.  In addition, they need to be able to communicate if those students are safe. Using Pinpoint at schools across the country can help create more effective emergency procedures.

For Safety, Seconds Count- A Reflection on Lockdown Procedures

Since 2013, there have been over 200 school shootings in the United States¹. As a result, lockdown drills are becoming more and more of a necessity in our school systems to prepare for such incidents. While lockdowns are commonly associated with school shootings, they are also used as a tool for all types of emergency scenarios. Pinpoint is a new company that was created to assist teachers and help ensure accountability for their students during lockdowns.  As a teacher, I have experienced countless emergency drills and scenarios, and have come to realize that, prior to Pinpoint, there was much room for improvement.

 

The first experience I would like to share occured while teaching seventh grade in a public school. When a lockdown drill was initiated, I was trained to get students to a corner of my classroom, ensure all doors were locked, lights turned off, blinds closed, and that everyone remain silent. Next, it was my responsibility to put a piece of colored paper in my window. This paper, which faced the playground,  was used to inform administrators and law enforcement of our current status.  If the paper was green, this indicated we were safe, and if the paper was red, it indicated we were in need of assistance. There were many concerns that I had when it came to this lockdown procedure. My primary concern was the form of communication. Not only did this indicate to a possible intruder that we were present in the room, but also our status. Secondly, if we were in a weather lockdown, this would put the teacher at risk to be near a window, and most likely would not be seen by administrators or law enforcement from outside.

 

While teaching at a private school, the procedures there were much similar to my previous experience; however, there was no specific form of communication. During the transition from recess to math, a lockdown drill was initiated. Since the students were transitioning between classes, they were scattered throughout the building. Once the room became secure and I gathered the students, I realized that one of my homeroom students was not accounted for. As you can imagine, fear ran through me. Since it is lockdown protocol not to leave your classroom, I was unable to look for this student. I began to text the teachers in our building, but I did not have the numbers of all of the teachers.  As a result, I began to send emails to all faculty members.  In this scenario, I was fortunate to locate the missing student, but it led me to believe that there had to be a better way to communicate with the administration and faculty.  

 

These two experiences, in two very different educational settings, made me wonder, is this a problem for all teachers? Are there any current practices to allow teachers to account for the students they have, identify their location, and then share that with administrators and law enforcement? Are there reliable means of communication between administration, faculty, and law enforcement? After reaching out to other teachers I know across the country, the answer was overwhelmingly, "No."

 

Pinpoint has been designed with the teacher, administrator, law enforcement, and most importantly, the safety of the students in mind. We allow teachers to check into their location and identify the names of the others that they are with during an emergency situation. Features within Pinpoint allow them to indicate if they are safe or in need of immediate assistance, and opens a line of communication between faculty, administrators, and law enforcement.  It is the mission of Pinpoint to make your lockdown procedures more efficient and effective during an a time when, unfortunately, we are seeing the need for lockdowns more than ever.

 

¹ (www.everytownresearch.org. 2017.)