Lockout vs. lockdown: Knowing the difference after threat to Denver-area schools

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Posted at 6:26 PM, Apr 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-16 20:26:53-04

DENVER – After an 18-year-old woman whom authorities say is “infatuated” with the 1999 Columbine High School shooting made “credible” threats to Denver-area schools, confusion arose on social media over the terms “lockout” versus “lockdown.”

Just after noon Tuesday, Jefferson County Public Schools – a district made up of 155 schools – placed 22 schools on lockout, including Columbine. Later Tuesday afternoon, the Colorado Department of Public Safety recommended a lockout at all Denver-area schools.

Those edicts were widely, and inaccurately, referenced by some online as lockdowns. So, what’s the difference?

According to Jeffco Public Schools’ emergency procedures posted online, a lockout is ordered “when there is an issue outside the building, most often police activity in the area that could pose a threat, or a wild animal nearby. All exterior doors are locked and ‘business as usual’ continues inside the school.”

The district defines the more serious event of a lockdown as follows:

“[A lockdown is] ordered when there is a threat inside the building. Students and staff are secured in the school. Staff does not communicate during a lockdown. Parents are not allowed on site during a lockdown.”

The suspect in Tuesday’s threats, Sol Pais, was said to be “armed and extremely dangerous,” according to an FBI bulletin. The lockouts began at Jeffco Schools because Pais had been last seen in the foothills of Jefferson County.

Still, the lockout never escalated to a lockdown at any Denver-area school. Several Denver-area districts implemented controlled releases, which means security was increased as students were released.

The lockouts came just days before the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting that took the lives of 13 students and both gunmen.

According to data published by Denver7 news partner The Denver Post, the number of lockouts and lockdowns have increased substantially since the 1999 tragedy – and even in the last couple years. Reported lockouts increased by 52 percent from the 2016-17 school year to the 2017-18 school year, according to The Post.

Reported lockdowns went up 55 percent in the same time period, according to the paper.