What’s a military lockdown? It’s usually a response to some kind of emergency situation such as an active shooter incident or other issues that present an immediate, clear and present danger to those working at a military base or other facility.
Military lockdowns are sometimes compared to shelter-in-place (SIP) orders but in the case of a lockdown the motivation may be a specific situational response rather than a general order of protection or elevation of an overall threat level.
The lockdown is in response to a specific situation that may or may not be ongoing at the time the lockdown is initiated. Some lockdowns occur after-the-fact to make sure the incident has truly been taken care of or the threat really has passed. Others are initiated ahead of an incident if there is time. Much depends on the situation and how quickly first responders can act.
What A Military Lockdown Entails
All personnel subject to an installation lockdown are generally directed to move indoors, and all indoor facilities within the affected area are locked down starting with all entranceways, doors, windows, etc.
No one may enter or leave once the lockdown begins, at least not until the all-clear has been sounded by the appropriate authority which may come from the installation commander, security forces, or other designated entities.
During a lockdown, the facility may be placed in blackout conditions–all lights turned off and there should be no signs of visible activity. In fact, it is crucial to an installation lockdown that people remain out of sight so as not to become targets of an enemy action.
How A Military Lockdown Is Announced
Lockdowns may be announced in any number of ways including the base’s “giant voice system” of outdoor speakers intended to be used for just such a purpose. There may also be announcements on the Commander’s Access Channel where available; a Commander’s Access Channel is more common at overseas bases but is basically a television feed where command information is disseminated.
You may also be notified via recall roster, or you may receive an in-person notification from security forces or their designated representatives. Some notifications may come in the form of a mass e-mail, text, or even SMS depending on circumstances. Your branch of military service may use an enterprise-level communication system to disseminate such information; ask your command support staff if you aren’t sure which is the go-to method.
What To Do During An Installation Lockdown
The first and most important thing to do is to follow all applicable instructions from the authority issuing the announcement. You’ll want to obey first responder instructions and remain calm. Resist the urge to pull fire alarms or take other steps unless directed to do so under the right circumstances.
Most installations, facilities, and individual operations on a military base have specific procedures for a lockdown; be sure to follow the instructions prepared by your unit or base in addition to following the instructions of first responders.
You may need to assume authority to activate a recall roster or notify the command staff but always rely on the instructions you were given in case of such an emergency where applicable.
Not all who are subject to such a lockdown may have the benefit of sheltering in their workspace; you may be at the BX/PX, at the base gym, or some other facility. No matter where you are required to take shelter, the following advice is key:
- If you are in an unfamiliar area, find a building or room you can lock yourself into.
- Don’t settle for just a locked door; barricade it and lock all windows as quickly and quietly as possible.
- Turn off all lights.
- Do not expose yourself to potential danger by remaining near doors or windows; do not make yourself a visible target.
- SILENCE YOUR CELL PHONE.
- Turn off potential hazards such as gas-powered devices, electrical appliances, etc.
- Find a hiding place within your shelter area.
- Do not look out windows or doors when the all-clear has not been given.
- If you hear commotion, chaos, gunfire, etc. assume the threat is directed toward you and assume a protective posture.
- Do NOT call any building where there may be an active shooter incident occurring–this will endanger the lives of those sheltering in place there.
- DO NOT open doors or windows until the all-clear has been given. Assume you must remain in place until that has occurred.
After An Installation Lockdown Has Occurred
Once you have been given the all clear, you will need to contact your chain of command if you have not already done so; further instructions from your unit and from first responders may be forthcoming. Follow all directions from the first responders, law enforcement, etc. Be prepared to assemble as an all-hands meeting to account for all personnel and to potentially receive further instructions.
Installation lockdowns often bring out the news media and one important thing to remember is that no individual member of your unit is authorized to represent the military, your command, your unit, or even your work space without express permission. Do not talk to the media without permission from your chain of command, the base Public Affairs team, etc.
The reasons for this have as much to do with preventing misinformation and confusion as it does controlling the flow of information.
In a lockdown situation, you may not be privy to the full details of the incident. There may be information investigators wish to keep out of the press or the public eye in order to facilitate that investigation without revealing such intentions to a potential enemy. If you are authorized to talk to the media, you will be told that specifically.
If you have NOT been so authorized, simply say “no comment” if you are confronted, but it’s best to avoid the media altogether in these cases.
From time to time, most military bases will conduct exercises or drills using a lockdown scenario such as an active shooter. In such cases, all employees, troops, and others who must work on post are notified in advance. In cases where you encounter such an exercise or drill but were not aware that it was happening, there are a few dead giveaways that you are not dealing with a real-world lockdown.
What are those dead giveaways? They start with the use of the base’s giant voice system. When an active shooter drill is underway you may hear the words “EXERCISE, EXERCISE, EXERCISE” prior to an announcement to take shelter or that the drill is imminent.
Another dead giveaway? First responders who arrive on site with training equipment rather than real-world gear needed to neutralize a threat. What kind of training gear? Rifles that are tipped with red to indicate that they are not live-fire weapons is one example. Another example is the use of “flash-bangs” to simulate ground fire, explosive ordnance, etc.
You can spot the use of a flash-bang because there is usually an exercise or drill facilitator setting them off–these troops will often walk casually through the exercise area (they are drill evaluators, after all, not responders) throwing the flash-bangs where they want them to go and evaluating the response to them.
You’re getting the right mental picture–during an exercise there are evaluators who are not “players” who have the run of the base regardless of the simulated threat condition, taking notes and observing the effectiveness of the response. In a real-world active shooter drill, these people would NOT be present.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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