As part of the Ofsted inspection, schools will be asked if they have a Lockdown Policy – this can be a simple document with guidelines – up until recently they have not had to have an actual Lockdown system installed. However, Ofsted now advocate a dedicated lockdown alarm to be in place, distinctive to the sound of the fire alarm. This is in line with advice from NACTSO (National Counter Terrorism Security Office) which states that the ‘use of fire alarms should be avoided to reduce incorrect response to an incident’.
Whilst Ofsted inspectors are primarily concerned with the performance of the school with regards to learning, they will refer to site security and will want the school to demonstrate that they are at the very least meeting basic criteria to protect pupils, staff and the premises. Their latest framework document points to ‘the effectiveness of health and safety policies and procedures, including conducting necessary risk assessments as well as regular checks on equipment and premises and the effectiveness of arrangements to provide a safe environment and secure school site.’ A poor showing with regards to the safety of pupils in the case of emergency will impact an Ofsted inspection negatively, therefore schools are looking to implement lockdown systems in accordance with their policy, but which one best suits a school’s needs?
Choosing a lockdown system is fraught with pitfalls and there is very little guidance from local councils and central government. The NASUWT has recently called on the government to provide schools with a coherent lockdown procedure which is recognised nationally. Chris Keates, NASUWT General Secretary said ‘responsibility for ensuring security and terrorism preparedness should be the responsibility of the whole governing body. It would not be appropriate for the government simply to require schools to have preparedness plans in place and assume that they are able to do this.’
When researching a lockdown system, schools will normally start with an online search. There is an array of solutions out there, some expensive, requiring cabling and some invasive in other ways – requiring access to the school’s Wi-Fi network, for example, which may not be possible or appropriate. Most schools will know where their problem hot spots are for confrontations etc and will be looking to install an easy to use system when a lockdown is required. However, the school should prepare for the unexpected and ensure that the system they use is fit for purpose. In this paper we will look at what alternatives there are out there and what schools should consider when choosing their lockdown system.
Firstly, what incidents may instigate a lockdown? There can be any number of scenarios leading to a school requiring pupils and staff to make themselves safe within the school premises. Many schools suffer from postcode wars where pupils may be part of gangs and the end of the school day is often a flash point for troubles from nearby schools. An intruder on site with a weapon is an obvious concern for schools or an argument between parents may escalate. A rogue animal in the playground may be another reason for lockdown or a nearby fire with noxious fumes. How does a school inform pupils and staff in a rapid and safe manner that they are to find a place of safety within the school and stay put?
An announcement via IP speakers is a good solution but offers no visual alert as well. These speakers also require wiring which takes time and money to install so is very dependent on the school’s budget. The advantage, of course, is that once the system is in the speakers can be used for a whole range of alerts – wet play, class change, all clear etc.
Some schools use fire alerts for lockdown but this can be fraught with problems and confusion. If the alerts are already being used for break time, adding in a further sound for lockdown can lead to confusion and possibly the incorrect procedure being adopted or a delay in appropriate action. Should the fire alarm therefore be considered for lockdown? For smaller sites it is a possibility, particularly if only one sound is currently being used but it is not an ideal solution as confusion as to whether the alarm means evacuate or stay put is the obvious flaw to using this option.
So, are live voice-based systems the answer? Again, there are pitfalls. Language of course is a barrier and as most lockdown systems will be prevalent in inner city locations this can be a real problem. A lockdown message with an in-built alert on loop can work in many cases, particularly if the school has regular lockdown drills. However, these tannoy announcements rarely cover outside areas such as playing fields due to cabling so schools with sprawling sites or several outbuildings may not be able to use this option.
Mobile phone systems are also an option but these come with their own problems. Firstly, the school may have a policy about mobile phone use during learning times. Unless the school looked at providing all staff members with a hand held device purely for lockdown or emergencies, relying on personal phones is pretty much a no-go area. The school has no authority or control over usage and there would be problems surrounding battery usage, signal coverage etc. This can be considered as a possible second line of defence, as an information tool as to the severity of the lockdown alert but as a primary lockdown alert it is not one that has merit.
Another option is handheld devices issued to personnel which can be used to alert staff to a variety of problems, not just lockdown events. However, these systems generally rely on colour coding to inform users of the type of event and could be open to misinterpretation. They are also reliant on staff wearing or carrying the devices at all times and keeping them charged.
The ALERTEX system is an alternative which offers battery-powered units which can be deployed anywhere. They offer an audible AND visual alert to pupils and staff and are distinguishable from fire alerts which of course mean evacuate the building. The ALERTEX Lockdown system comprises battery-operated units which can be quickly installed on the school site over a weekend or even at the end of the school day, thus minimising disruption to the learning environment. Battery life is around three years. A maximum of 64 units can be installed per site, up to 1km apart. When one ALERTEX unit is activated it will trigger all units in range to sound an audible alert or lockdown message, accompanied by a flashing beacon light.
Both internal and external variants are available and decibel levels can be adjusted accordingly. ALERTEX units can sound a variety of alerts to differentiate them from a fire alarm – there are 32 sounds to choose from. Alternatively, an annunciator variant can be ordered which has a built-in strobe. There is a standard lockdown message or the school may wish to record their own.
There is also an option to use the ALERTEX PC app which allows one central location, normally the school office, to monitor and control activated units. From here the user can re-set the system after activation, although the original depressed call point will have to be manually re-set. A silent test can be made via the PC app or a short or longer test if needed. The PC app also has an email function which allows for a specific email group to be advised of the severity of the lockdown event.
In conclusion, whilst all schools will consider the safety of pupils and staff a top priority, budget restrictions for a lockdown system will be an issue. It is vital that the school carry out a regular fire and security risk assessment of the premises and review it regularly. Staff should be made aware of potential risks and subsequent mitigating measures that have been put in place and know the differences between a fire alert (meaning evacuation) and a lockdown alert (meaning stay on the premises and make your way to your classroom or nearest place of safety). Regular training and testing of any equipment should be carried out. The main criteria must be that all occupants are alerted to a lockdown situation quickly and that there is no room for confusion. It is vital that whatever system the school chooses, that the operation and policy behind the system is communicated to all members of staff.
Contact us to arrange a site visit, or for more information about our ALERTEX Lockdown System.