What do we do when we have students outside and a building is put into lockdown?



A principal asked me a great question, and I wanted your perspective. What do we do when we have students and classes outside and a building is put into lockdown?

The scenario:
In the middle of the day, students are playing on the playground equipment, and the Physical Education class is outside playing kickball. An angry parent is in the Main Office, and the secretary puts the building into lockdown.

During the lockdown, should we bring the students back into the building? Where should you take them if you do not bring them into the building?

What if the threat is outside, resulting in the building going into lockdown? Do you bring the students back into the building?


Those who survive extreme violence tend to survive because they’ve gotten Space & Separation.

Space is an object like a door, wall, desk—something physical that provides protection and separation is just like it sounds. Distance or separation from the violence.

Anyone who has ever done a lockdown is very familiar with the concept. After all, a lockdown is nothing more than a coordinated effort to immediately obtain space & separation. It’s the whole purpose of the drill and the closed door gives a teacher both—physical protection (space) and distance (separation) from the threat.

With this in mind, let’s look at both scenarios.

  1. Scenario #1:
    The teacher is outside with her class. A lockdown is called because of a potential threat inside the main office. Should the teacher come back inside or stay outside?

    If the teacher returns to the building, she is moving closer to the potential threat and therefore diminishing her separation. While outside, she has at least the exterior door and the school building wall for space. If she moves back into the building, she will be giving up these physical protections (space). Yes, it will only be momentarily until she can make it back into her classroom, but she will be without space & separation as she’s moving in the halls.

    Therefore, in this scenario I’d recommend staying outside.

    To enhance her space & separation, I would recommend moving away from the building to a predetermined location or rally point. This will give her more space (trees, homes, cars) & greater separation (distance) from the potential threat.

    It’s important to note that if moving to the rally point causes her to travel too closely to the building or parallel to the main office windows, she should go in the opposite direction of the known or suspected violence. Again, try to take action that will increase and not decrease space & separation.

    When the teacher gets to the rally point, she should call the police and district office in that order. Group the students together, take roll, and try to reassure the kids. If she has a radio, listen carefully and await instructions.

  2. Scenario #2:
    The threat is outside, resulting in the building going into lockdown. Do you bring the students back into the building?

    This is a little tougher to answer because I don’t know exactly where the threat is outside, how close it is to the class, and if moving inside will move the class closer or further (separation) from the threat.

    To help, here are a couple generalities.

    If the threat is believed to not yet be on the property, get inside as fast as you can if you can do it quickly. If you’re way out in the field playing soccer, you most likely already have space & separation so don’t come in. Keep going and get more.

    If you don’t know where the threat is but believe it’s someplace outside—don’t try to get back into the building if you stand any chance of running into the threat or accidently letting the threat into the building. Instead, get away, get space & separation, and follow the procedures of calling 911 and the district office. If you have a radio, call the main office and tell them what you’re doing.

    If you’re outside and it’s a lockout because of some issue or concern in the community, most likely you’ll get more space & separation by immediately returning to the building. The threat is in the community. Staying outside the building will give you less space & separation.

Space & separation covers all scenarios, regardless of where you are or what you’re doing. For example, I’m often asked when to use run, hide, and fight? How does a person know which one is the right one?

First of all, everyone fights in a crisis. If you’re running, hiding, barricading, or surviving—you’re fighting. Some groups advocate fighting as a last resort. No, do it first and don’t stop fighting. Just do it in the way you can best do it.

Physically fighting is different.

If you have the skills, comfort, training, or if you have zero space & separation—then do your best and try to fight physically!

If you’re in a hide location and are convinced that you cannot keep the attacker out (about to lose space & separation), then prepare to transition to run. When you run, go out the windows. Almost everyone survives who goes out the window. In large part because the window gives you space & separation. As you’re running, seek space & distance and don’t stop until you have it.

If you’re in a hide position and can maintain space & separation, you don’t have to transition. Stay where you are and continue to plan your contingencies.

If you’re a principal and a lockdown is called—do you lockdown or go to the threat?

Here is one caveat about space & separation. If you purposefully decrease or eliminate your protection and distance from the threat by running towards the threat, then you must be willing to go physical with the attacker. If this is not something you’re comfortable with, it’s understandable. It also means that you’re totally normal. If that’s you, stay where you are or find a place that will give you space & separation. Your life is important, too.

As you can see, it all comes back to space & separation. The more you can get, the better. The less you have, the greater your vulnerability. Any action that you take should be to gain, maintain, or increase space & separation.

Use this strategy and it will save lives, lower fear, and help you to make the best possible decision in a horrible situation.


If you want to prepare your students and your staff to effectively implement space & separation, let me know and we can arrange a training.

Space & separation is one of the 3 strategies in our ACT FAST program. One-day professional developments, student assemblies, as well as Train-the-Trainer seminars are available.

Call or email and let me know if you have any questions. I’m happy to help!

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