Lockdown! Will Your Team Be Ready On A Moment’s Notice?

Stan Szpytek

Stan Szpytek

Good morning, ProviderNation.

• A shooting at a high school down the street from your health care facility
• A felony stop in front of your assisted living community that leads to a police foot chase on your property
• A bank robbery at the corner that turns into a hostage situation
• A train derailment one-quarter of a mile away, where tank cars are emitting toxic fumes
• A peaceful protest that turns violent at a government building near your community
• A report of a person with a gun in your parking lot

If there is an emergent reason to lock down your facility on a moment’s notice due to some type of peril occurring on or near your property, will your team be ready to meet the challenge?
When it comes to assessing potential threats and perils that can impact a long term care facility or senior care community, you must expand your field of vision to account for incidences that can occur nearby and may not be directly related to your operations.

Establishing an “all hazards” emergency management plan and training all staff on all shifts on proper lockdown procedures is a critical step in helping to ensure the safety of residents, staff, and visitors during an emergency where the facility needs to be secured.

A first step in ensuring a successful outcome when the order is received or given to lock down a facility includes clear command and control through the use of the Nursing Home Incident Command System (NHICS).

Having an “All Hazards” Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) in place that utilizes NHICS will help in the immediate decision-making process that will be required at the time of an unexpected adverse event. It will be imperative for the person in charge, known as the Incident Commander, to recognize the potential security threat (see above examples) and take immediate action to lock down and secure the facility. Hesitating during the initial stages of a rapidly evolving incident may put the facility at risk if it is not secured as quickly as possible.

While it is typical to rely on the facility’s maintenance technician to address day-to-day issues pertaining to the physical plant and infrastructure, an emergency lockdown will require the efforts of all staff on duty at the time of the incident.

A common mistake is assuming the maintenance team is responsible for facility lockdown. Of course, most long term care facilities do not have a maintenance technician on duty around the clock and cannot always rely on their immediate availability. Therefore, it is essential for all staff members to understand the specific procedures required to lock down the facility in an expedited manner when an emergency occurs.

This will involve regular training on lockdown procedures to help ensure that the whole team is aware of the steps needed to secure the facility. Specific issues involving access control systems; delayed-egress locking arrangements; securing windows; and closing window coverings, such as blinds and curtains, to restrict vision in or out of the facility must be comprehensively addressed in written procedures and training protocols. Additionally, practicing facility lockdown with drills and exercises will help ensure an appropriate response during a real-world event.

It should be acknowledged that “lockdown” can mean different things depending on the type of incidence at hand. There are lockdowns to keep unauthorized people out of your building during a crisis or emergency, and there are lockdowns to keep people inside of your building. In the case of a potential hazardous materials incident involving the train derailment a quarter of a mile away from the facility, a “lockdown” may be initiated to prevent building occupants from walking outside into a hazardous environment.

Regardless of the reason, your facility needs to be prepared to initiate a lockdown as quickly as possible when such action is warranted. Training all staff on the physical characteristics of the building and the specific procedures necessary to initiate a lockdown is a critical factor in safeguarding the occupants of your health care or assisted living community during rapidly evolving events that may threaten the safety and security of your residents.

Stan Szpytek is the president of Fire and Life Safety (FLS) and is the life safety/disaster planning consultant for the Arizona Health Care Association and California Association of Health Facilities. He is a former deputy fire chief and fire marshal with more than 35 years of experience in life safety compliance and emergency preparedness. For more information, visit http://www.EMAllianceusa.com or e-mail Szpytek at Firemarshal10@aol.com.

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