Should You Pull Your Fire Alarm During a Lockdown?
For many schools across the U.S., the months of August and September signal a new school year. Along with that exciting time comes safety and security drills for fire events.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, most K-12 schools in the U.S. are required to regularly conduct fire drills so that students, faculty and staff know the fire safety features of the school, the egress facilities, and the procedures that need to be followed. In those drills, students are taught how to leave classrooms and other areas in order to find shelter outside of the building.
When it comes to active shooter situations, there may be a question as to whether it is a good idea to pull the fire alarm. In the first critical and few seconds when an armed intruder has entered a school, it might seem like the best idea in order to get first responders to the scene as rapidly as possible.
However, in reality, activating a fire alarm can actually hamper the ability for first responders to react and mitigate an active shooter situation.
For example, the fire alarm was activated in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla. in February 2018. During that incident, it was tripped by smoke which some reports say might have contributed to some students losing their lives. Students and teachers were confused about what procedures to follow. Some students, standing in hallways and stairwells uncertain about whether or not to leave the building, became targets for the shooter.
Activating a fire alarm can also create chaos for first responders, which can result in longer response times. When a fire alarm is pulled, the alarm company will contact 911 dispatchers, who will then send firefighters to the scene. When 911 dispatchers have to answer a false fire alarm call, that takes time away from their ability to send the appropriate first responders.
For example, fire alarm activations lengthened police and first responder response times in the D.C Navy Yard shooting that killed 12 people on July 11, 2014. According to the official police report, the fire alarm proved “to be an ongoing distraction for the responding officers searching for the shooter.”
The loud sound of fire alarms can also delay police or security officers’ ability to locate where the gunshots are taking place or to reach students and faculty who may be sheltering in place. Even more, a loud fire alarm can prevent students from hearing messages broadcast over school intercoms, which could cause additional confusion and panic.
A better alternative to pulling a fire alarm during an active shooter situation is through an Incident/Emergency alarm and mass notification system. These systems can instantly and silently alert administrators, security officers, teachers, students, staff and all stakeholders to a threat on your campus or facility.
A cloud-based Incident/Emergency alarm and mass notification system can be engaged on any computer or mobile device, and can send emergency notifications to alert first responders. The system will send an audible siren to all authorized users’ devices, so even if they have earbuds in or other applications running on their computers or mobile devices, they will hear the lockdown siren and can take immediate action.
Active shooters want to gain access to as many defenseless victims as quickly as possible. Pulling a fire alarm will send students, faculty and staff into hallways and other areas where a shooter could be. Instead, the strategy should be to impede a shooter’s actions for as long as possible while also fortifying your school’s emergency response capabilities via a cloud-based Incident/Emergency alarm and mass notification system.
Robin Baker oversees the design and development of SilverShield, a cloud-based Visitor & Emergency Management System, and was also instrumental in ARMS, an anti-piracy security application for the safety of ships and crews at sea. In addition, Robin was also the founder of Learning Today, now known as iReady. Robin works with Schools, as well as Security and Software Development Teams internationally to improve the safety and security of schools today. American Heritage School of Plantation and Boca/Delray has adopted SilverShield and can speak about its effectiveness on their campus as well.
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