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November 4, 2009 > Anatomy of a lockdown

Anatomy of a lockdown

By Shavon Walker

As you take your lunchtime break, you decide to text your son or daughter. "How's lunch?" you type. Their response? "OMG THERE'S A LOCKDOWN!!!" Five seconds later, you receive a call from the school, notifying you personally. This kind of scenario would send any parent into a panic; many have no idea what happens during a lockdown, who is in charge, or if their children are truly safe. Commander Bob Douglas of the Newark Police Department shed some light on this procedure.

A lockdown is usually triggered when there is a threat of some kind either near or on campus; doors and gates are literally "locked down" and no one is allowed to leave until it is deemed safe to do so. Commander Douglas pointed out that lockdowns can be requested by the school or by the police department.

Nine times out of ten, however, if the school initiates a lockdown, the police department is contacted, especially for junior high. The contact can be made by the principal or the School Resource Officer (SRO). SROs are on both junior high and high school campuses; not only are they on the scene if an emergency arises, but students can warn them of any potential problems during the school day. Occasionally, lockdowns can happen after school hours, but this is rare.

Parents may wonder why their children are not allowed to use their phones during a lockdown. Commander Douglas provides a simple explanation: "They're not allowed to call or text because that can spread a lot of misinformation and rumors. It also creates problems with crowd control." Many parents' first reaction is to come to the locked down school, but their presence can make it more difficult for police to focus on the threat. However, that is not to say that the desire to be there is out of place. "We understand that parents are concerned about their children." he adds.

Fremont and Union City, as well as other police departments, have mutual aid agreements with Newark Police. Depending on the severity of the situation, they may be called in for backup. Commander Douglas also noted that other contingency plans are in place for local areas, as well as for the city itself, in case of other threats.

Steps to a lockdown

1. School officials/police department are informed of a potential threat and initiate a lockdown.
2. Intruder alarm is sounded on campus and a loudspeaker announcement is made.
3. Teachers usher any students in the halls into their classrooms as quickly as possible, directing everyone to get under the desks and to stay quiet. Students are also reminded not to call or text. Lights are turned off, and doors are locked.
4. Police and some staff members patrol the campus to ensure that staff and students are safe, and to locate and eliminate the threat.
5. A reverse dialing system is used to notify parents of the lockdown, using the phone numbers given on the student's emergency card.
6. Once the threat is eliminated, another "all clear" announcement is made. Students and staff go back to their normal day.

If the lockdown is for practice only, the police department is given a courtesy call.

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