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Emergency Procedures

Emergency Procedures FAQ: Spanish (PDF) | Amharic (PDF) | Arabic (PDF)

What happens if a threat is detected inside a building?

A lockdown is declared when a violent intruder is known to be inside a building. ACPS has recently expanded the options for action that staff and students may take during a lockdown.

The new procedures will empower staff and students to choose other options during a lockdown. These may include evacuating the building, barricading a door or distracting a violent intruder.

Previously, a lockdown required doors to be closed, the blinds pulled, lights turned off and students to sit facing a wall away from a window.

What happens if the threat is outside the building?

Emergency guidelines regarding the procedure formerly known as “lock-in” — when the risk is outside the building — have also changed slightly. The new procedure is now referred to as “secure the building.”

Staff members at the location of an incident are now able to take appropriate action to keep students safe who may be around or near their building when an emergency is called. This may include keeping a building open for a few minutes while students and staff who are in the immediate area enter.

The same procedures apply as before regarding leaving a building once it has been secured: once inside a building, those inside may not leave the building until security has deemed it safe to do so.

What is the difference?

Lockdown refers to a threat inside the building.

Secure the building refers to a threat outside the building.

The Federal Government response to a threat outside the building is to secure the building. To keep things simple and ensure ACPS is in line with federal emergency guidelines, we now use the term “secure the building.”

Why did these procedures change?

Research into violent encounters has shown that when those at the scene are empowered to take actions appropriate to the situation, fewer lives are lost. Research has shown that following a single instruction and sitting still in a dark room in the event of a violent encounter can decrease the odds of survival. In these types of incidents, police may arrive after the incident is over. These new procedures empower staff and students to take actions appropriate to each individual situation and act as they think best.

Will this mean that everyone will be safe from now on if there is a violent intruder incident?

These procedures are designed to make a school as safe as it possibly can be during such an incident. While no action can guarantee safety for all, there is evidence to show that had these procedures been adopted during the Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary and Virginia Tech incidents, fewer lives may have been lost.

ACPS always ensures our schools are as safe as we possibly can make them with the information available at the time and regularly reviews ways to make our schools safer.

Traditional lockdown procedures were designed to address drive-by shootings in the mid-1980s. Absent other proposed approaches over the years, schools gradually applied these traditional lockdown procedures to all violent encounters, even threats inside a building. Recently, federal guidelines regarding violent encounters have changed. ACPS updated our emergency procedures in line with these federal guidelines.

Other school divisions don’t use these lockdown procedures. Why is ACPS changing?

ACPS is one of the first school divisions in Northern Virginia to introduce a more flexible and active approach to lockdown procedures. However, we are not the first to adopt this approach in Virginia. In addition, many schools across the U.S are now implementing these new procedures for lockdowns.

Does the state of Virginia endorse these lockdown procedures?

Virginia has yet to formally endorse these particular new lockdown procedures. Seven states (Massachusetts, Vermont, Alabama, Ohio, Maryland, Alaska and Pennsylvania) have already made them the official lockdown procedures in their schools.

What is the timeline?

It takes time to fully implement and integrate the changes. ACPS is implementing the new procedures as quickly as possible. All staff members were trained over the course of last school year. Last year, we also began to train students and this will continue in the first few months of this school year. ACPS already practices evacuation drills with students through fire drills, bus evacuation drills, etc. Evacuation is the core of the new lockdown procedures.

What happens if there is an incident before the new lockdown procedures have been implemented?

Evacuation is at the core of the new lockdown procedures. This is already part of some of our emergency procedures, such as fire drills. Students will practice how to evacuate a building throughout the fall.

Staff can use their knowledge as soon as they have been trained.

Are we teaching students to fight a violent intruder?

All training is age-appropriate and no child is taught to fight a violent intruder.

What are we doing for people with intellectual or physical challenges?

All families with a student that has special needs will be notified about differentiated emergency procedures.

What should I tell my child?

There will continue to be considerable communication around these changes to families as well as to staff and the wider community. Please discuss these lockdown procedures with your child as appropriate. Some elementary students may notice little difference in the new drills, while middle- and high-school students may have many questions. There will be Q&A sessions ahead of the student training sessions at schools.

Do parents need training?

Parents do not need training in the lockdown procedures, but should be aware of them so to be able to effectively talk with children about how to handle a violent encounter. These procedures are useful for any violent encounter and are not limited to use inside a school.

What happens if my child faces a violent encounter during a field trip?

These new lockdown procedures are adaptable to any situation. They are not specifically designed for a school. The same drills that students and staff will learn in a classroom can be used anywhere, including on a field trip.

Why are parents asked not to call or text their child during an emergency?

The first priority for staff is to address the danger and ensure that all students are safe. Phone calls can distract from this priority and may potentially alert an intruder to the location of a student. The ACPS Office of Communications will communicate with families as soon as possible. Staff, students and parents can sign up for alerts at