RAQs: Recently Asked Questions

Topic: Library Lockdowns - 12/28/2018
Should an event occur, is it legal in NYS to institute a lockdown in a public library? ...
Posted: Friday, December 28, 2018 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

Should an event occur, is it legal in NYS to institute a lockdown in a public library?

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

This question brought back a lot of memories for your “Ask the Lawyer” attorney.  

Between 2006 and 2017, I was a full-time in-house attorney on a college campus.  On April 16th, 2007, my time in higher ed was forever changed, when the entire campus froze to watch the reporting from Virginia Tech.  32 people dead.  17 wounded.

Over the years, as incident after incident occurred on schools and college campuses, my colleagues in higher education would wonder “Are we next?”[1]

I was lucky; my campus had no such incident during my time there (or since).  But I was there for the development of our active shooter response protocol, there for our on-campus trainings, and there, as an administrator, for our “incident response” trainings with local, state and federal law enforcement…getting ready for a day when we might not be lucky.

Large (and small) public institutions and facilities like schools, museums, malls, and of course libraries have been struggling with how to prepare for the day someone brings a gun and threatens or perpetrates violence on their property.  It is a horrific thing to contemplate, and a scary prospect to plan for…especially because there is a diversity of opinion as to what the best prevention and training techniques really are.

Some institutions have the benefit of mandates.  In New York, all schools must practice active shooter response, and there are laws, regulations and experts in place to guide those mandated drills.  And college campuses are mandated to prepare for emergency response.

Public libraries, on the other hand, do not have such a state-wide mandate.  Although chartered and operated in connection with a municipality, they are independent operators.  This means that though they may choose to follow whatever policy or procedure their municipality has developed for emergency response, or to adopt their own, that choice requires board approval.[2]

But the member’s precise question is: is it legal in NYS to institute a lockdown in a public library?

First, let’s clarify what is meant by “lockdown.”

Per §155.17 of Chapter 8 of New York’s Rules & Regulations: 

Lock-down means to immediately clear the hallways, lock and/or barricade doors, hide from view, and remain silent while readying a plan of evacuation as a last resort. Lock-down will only end upon physical release from the room or secured area by law enforcement.

To some people, “lockdown” (hiding, barricading) in the face of an active shooter sounds like a really good idea.  Others might prefer to run.  And still others think the best option would be to fight.

According to the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, depending on the situation, any of these could be the right choice.  Watch the video, “480 Seconds” at this link[3]. It depicts, in stark and practical terms, the different “best” responses, depending on an active shooter situation.  http://www.dhses.ny.gov/aware-prepare/step3.cfm

“Lockdown,” as defined in the NYS Education Law, was determined to be the best option for schools because they house a large, vulnerable population of minors.  While many of us only hear about this procedure through our kids (as we try to conceal our terror), school librarians know first-hand that the drills our kids do are only a small part of a system that requires:

  • extensive site analysis;
  • the creation building safety teams;
  • designation of emergency gathering spaces;
  • communications plans; and
  • extensive training of staff. [4]

Any lockdown plan should be this well-developed, because as “480 Seconds” shows, sheltering in a secure place is not the only response to an active shooter situation.  Further, even in a place with a lockdown plan, responses will vary by building type, function, and population served (consideration of people with different disabilities, for instance, requires continually renewed attention).  Given certain variables, a lockdown procedure might be the best option, but even once that has been determined, ensuring doors can be secured, signage is properly posted, and staff are trained, are all critical elements of the plan.

So, is it legal to institute a lockdown procedure in a public library?  Yes. Library boards can (and should[5]) pass emergency response policies, include active shooter policies, and a lockdown plan might be determined to be the best response.  That said, unlike schools entrusted with minors, libraries serve a large population of independent, autonomous adults.  Unlike law enforcement responding at the scene, a staff directive to stay in place will only have the force of library policy…which is different from an order by law enforcement[6].  A person who wants to leave (and whose biology is telling them they MUST leave) might do so.

For me, the most important aspect of this question is not if a lockdown policy at a public library is “legal,” but how a public library develops its active shooter response plan and trains its staff.  This can be no cut-and-paste job; it is a work for a credentialed and experienced expert.  There is grant money and aid out there for not-for-profit libraries to seek this critical input.  And in many places, simply reaching out to local government can put you in touch with all the resources you need. 

Just like “480 Seconds,” the services of an expert[7] will help your library apply the collective wisdom about active shooter situations to the somber but vital act of planning for an actual situation. 

We can never be truly ready for an active shooter incident, but we can be prepared.  Lockdown might be part of that preparation.  Thank you for this important question.



[1] It was probably a false sense of security, but these were the times when I was glad to have ROTC on campus.

[2] There is one exception to this: a public library that rents its property may be required, in its lease, to follow the rules of its Landlord. But that would still mean the board had approved the terms of the lease.

[3] This video is not graphic, but it is very serious.  I suggest you not watch it at your library unless it is part of an in-depth and well-considered training on active shooter response, led by a credentialed and experienced expert (local law enforcement should be able to assist in finding that person).

[4] See NYS Education Law §2801-a.

[5] An emergency response plan, along with plans for an active shooter, is listed as a recommended policy in the NY Library Trustees’ Association’s 2018 Trustee Handbook, page 115.

[6] Of course, some libraries have private security, or coordinate with law enforcement.  If that is the case for your library, their training and level authority must be incorporated into your plan, and that may change the dynamic.

[7] This is very serious: your plan and training should be put in place using a contracted, person with established credentials and experience writing and training on emergency preparedness and active shooter response.  There are many accredited and recommended programs for this.  For a public library, this would be through the usual procurement process.

 

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