The recent shootings in Texas and Las Vegas have tragically illustrated that lockdown (or lock out) is not an effective active shooter response plan. Sadly, most businesses, schools, universities, and places of worship still view a lockdown plan as their only option. Whether it is an outdoor setting like the Las Vegas shooting, or a confined space like the church in Texas, when confronted by a suicidal and homicidal attacker, a lockdown plan will fail.

While not the first mass shooting, lockdown (or lock out) as an active shooter or active killer response plan, was embraced after Columbine with a noble goal: compartmentalize people away from attackers. As of today, during 2017 alone, there have been 307 mass shootings in the U.S. Out of necessity, we must apply lessons learned since Columbine.

The lockdown concept for active shooter response was adapted from prisons, where offenders are locked in cells to protect the guards. As a precautionary security protocol, this type of compartmentalization can be very effective, but as a response to an actual active shooter-type attack, lockdown is not a best practice.

There are three core fallacies to the effectiveness of a lockdown/ lock out as an active killer response plan. They are:


1. The killer is always somewhere else

2.  People are always in places that can be secured

3.  A locked door can stop a killer


Fallacy # 1: The killer is always somewhere else

The goal of a lockdown is to compartmentalize people away from the attacker. But what if the attacker already has direct contact with people? Whether the attack occurs outside like Las Vegas or inside like the Texas Church shooting, lockdowns do not help the people who are at the greatest risk – those having direct contact with the killer.
A fundamental principle of emergency preparedness is to first help the people who are at the greatest risk. Using lockdown as an active shooter or active killer response plan does not meet this most basic goal.

Fallacy #2: People are always in places that can be locked or secured

The effectiveness of a lockdown is predicated on people being inside offices or rooms so the attacker may be denied access to them.

 People do not magically arrive in their designated areas, sit in place and then disappear. They arrive in varying degrees of clusters, move about, and come and go throughout the day.

In an active shooter type attack, the killer, not their target, dictates the time and location of the attack.

Plans and training should account for when people are in securable areas, but they also must account for nonsecure areas, arrival, departure, and movement.

Fallacy # 3: A locked door can stop a killer

There is no universal design that was created with security in mind. Due to building renovations, it is rare for rooms to be standardized throughout a building. To use lockdown as a standardized active shooter plan, when the room that is supposed to be secured is not standardized, it is lazy and dangerous.

This is not to suggest that securing a door is not sometimes the best option. It can be.

Even if the door can be locked from inside the room, which is rare, there are still major vulnerabilities such as vision panels on doors, interior windows, and wall material that cannot stop a typical 9mm pistol round.

Very few active killers have an exit strategy, they expect to die or be captured. When killing people inside a room means more to an attacker than his own life, it is unlikely that a locked door will stop an attack.

Whether it is a precautionary action in response to possible danger or evacuation is not possible due to the location of the attacker or the physical limitations of the occupants; clearly there are times when staying inside a secured room is the best option. In these instances, it is imperative people be familiar with impromptu target hardening strategies such as barricading or tying off door handles.

Many organizations are improving the ability to secure entrances and interior rooms or officers. These are excellent security enhancements, but they do not solve fallacies 1 & 2. Active shooter-type attacks are dynamic and, when they occur, there is no one magic physical security solution that can protect an entire facility. This is why current best practices dictate options.

A Necessary Paradigm Shift

A recent report by the FBI highlights that shooter attacks are on the increase. The problem is not going away and we must continue to improve preparedness capabilities.

307 Mass Shooting in the U.S. (as of November 7, 2017)

The security premise of a lockdown is compartmentalization; which is a singular tactic. It is a dangerous fallacy to believe a door will always stop an active killer. Simply put, killing people means more to the active killer than their own life so preparedness efforts must look beyond a simple lockdown.

AlerT – Best Practice Active Shooter Response

All leading federal preparedness and response

organizations, including the U.S. Department of Justice,

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the

Department of Health and Human Services recommend

Options-based training founded on the concepts of situational awareness

Leaders must be willing to confront the reality that protecting people from an active killer is more complicated than locking a door. If you are interested in viewing SafePlans’ AlerT (Assess, lockdown, evade, resist, Tell) eLearning course, or our other training options, at no cost or obligation, please contact us.

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