Lockdown or lockout? Change in wordplay has big difference in school’s response to crisis

A Myrtle Beach Police car sits outside the former Myrtle Beach Middle School building during a lockdown earlier this school year.
A Myrtle Beach Police car sits outside the former Myrtle Beach Middle School building during a lockdown earlier this school year.

Lockdown … or lockout?

For schools in Georgetown County, a simple change between “down and out” can mean a world of difference.

On Monday, a shooting in Georgetown forced the “lockout” of McDonald Elementary School. According to Georgetown County Schools public information officer Ray White, such is the case when “a potential threat exists outside of the building.”

Under typical “lockout” protocol, the school day continues its normal flow. Doors are secured, with students and other personnel ordered to stay indoors.

Due to the time of day the “lockout” occurred, McDonald Elementary implemented an early dismissal plan.

“All car riders’ parents in line were told what was taking place, and rather than have the students outside to wait for their rides, they were kept in the cafeteria and escorted out as their parents arrived,” said Georgetown County Schools director of safety and risk development Alan Walters. “Bus riders were escorted to their buses, and walkers had parents contacted to come pick them up.

“With district staff including the superintendent and myself at the school along with sheriff’s deputies, the school staff was able to get everyone safely out in about 30 minutes, which is not much longer than a normal school day.”

A different form of order is in play during a school “lockdown.”

Students are asked to move out of sight, remain silent and keep all doors closed. Teachers and administrators are to lock interior doors, move out of sight, turn off all lights and make sure students are accounted for.

“A simple way to look at it is during a ‘lockout’ the threat is outside, while in a ‘lockdown’ the threat to safety is inside the building,” Walters said. “When you think of (lockdowns), most think of school shootings. Though we never hope parents have to get used to it, we want parents to understand our messaging and how we convey to them what is occurring at a school during an emergency.”

Every school district is not created equally, and the same can be said for how they handle crises.

Horry County Schools does not use the term “lockout” during emergency situations, instead designating it as “shelter in place” protocol.

“We use (shelter in place) as a precautionary measure when there may be an external condition which creates a need to modify or restrict outdoor activities such as recess, intake and dismissal or admitting visitors,” said Horry County Schools spokesperson Lisa Bourcier. “What the school chooses to execute is situational with respect to a particular incident.”

“For example, reacting to a chemical spill in the area would be considerably different than if law enforcement in the area were chasing a wanted person close to the campus. When we announce a certain protocol like ‘shelter in place,’ we will define exactly what that means so parents and the public will know.”

HCS does use the “lockdown” emergency response when there is a direct or serious threat to students, staff and visitors, Bourcier said. She adds that staff is trained how to respond to such occasions and law enforcement is on standby to offer further guidance.

“School administrators would normally activate our emergency response models,” Bouricer said. However, we work closely with first responders and would certainly give due consideration to any recommendations they may have during a critical incident.”

Joe L. Hughes II: 843-444-1702, @JoeLHughesII