Lockdowns need to happen quickly to protect people and property from potential harm. A facility that this not locked down properly can suffer costly damage and disruptions. The risks that come with having an ineffective lockdown plan became painfully evident following the events at the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6. While the people inside the building were ushered to safety, the building itself was breached and overrun resulting in theft, building damage, injury and even death. It was clear that while the notification side of an emergency plan can be useful, its effectiveness only goes so far if it is not working in tandem with other physical security measures.

Many organizations have found a solution though by combining their mass notification systems with physical security systems to help automate the lockdown process. Too often, organizations introduce complex procedures and tools that require multiple steps before people can begin to lockdown their facilities. This can waste precious time and increases the likelihood one of those steps in missed, which could result in people encountering dangerous individuals or situations. The simpler a lockdown procedure is, the faster it can be initiated. Integrating lockdown tools with mass notification means multiple actions can happen simultaneously.

The first step is determining what kind of events require locking down a facility and who will have the authority to initiate a lockdown. Those events will likely vary depending on the size of organization, its industry, and location. Regardless of what events an organization identifies as requiring a lockdown, each can have custom-built message templates within a mass notification system to alert people about what’s happening and the appropriate actions to take to stay safe or aid in securing the facility. Text and audio messages can go out to many devices organizations already have in place within their buildings, like desk phones, IP speakers, digital signage and desktop computers. Utilizing multiple communication channels makes it more likely that everyone receives a message quickly. Audio alerts about a lockdown taking place can be particularly beneficial as they can offer an intrusive means to interrupt ongoing activities. Notifications can be sent to mobile devices as well. This expands the reach of a notification, so no matter where someone is, they receive the information they need. Mobile alerts can also prevent people who may be outside of building from becoming part of an ongoing incident.

Mass notifications offer simple triggers via virtual or physical panic buttons, speed dials, keyboard shortcuts, and mobile apps. The messages tied to these triggers can also be connected to activate contact closures to automatically lock doors when a lockdown notification is distributed. In addition to locking doors, follow up messages can be configured to be sent to security teams and other stakeholders with a link to a security camera feed near where the notification was triggered. This can offer real-time insights into what kind of emergency is unfolding to determine the best response.

A lockdown requires ongoing incident management to resolve a situation and get operations back to normal. Mass notification systems can play a critical role in this part of an emergency plan as well. Following a mass notification, select team members can be invited to join a virtual collaboration space via tools like Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex Teams, or a conference call. This helps bring the right people together quickly who can assess the situation and begin deploying assistance where it is needed. They can figure out if the lockdown was successful or if there are any areas that are still vulnerable. Follow up notifications can also be sent that ask recipients for a response. This could be a simple question, such as “Are you in a secure location?” Recipients that reply “yes” give the incident response team an indication of how effective their lockdown procedure was, while those that respond “No” can be sent additional notifications that offer the assistance they need to stay safe. Sending follow up notifications also offers recipients peace of mind that an incident is actively being monitored and managed.

When the event has concluded, mass notifications can be used to resume normal operations. The same notification methods listed above can be used to send an “all clear” message as well as unlock doors. Using mass notifications for every step of the lockdown process creates a powerful tool that can minimize headaches and be more advantageous during chaotic situations than relying on multiple disparate systems and processes. With a unified lockdown and mass notification solution, organizations can protect people more effectively, better manage an ongoing lockdown situation, and minimize downtime by getting operations back up and running more quickly.

This article originally ran in Security, a twice-monthly security-focused eNewsletter for security end users, brought to you by Security Magazine. Subscribe here.