With school shootings becoming more and more common around the country, school districts and law enforcement agencies have begun changing their protocols for handling such situations based on a new program that has been nationally endorsed in the education and law enforcement community.
ALICE has been endorsed by the United States Department of Education and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. It is a new form of intruder response that is aimed to allow evacuation when possible and equip staff and students with techniques to better prepare themselves should an armed intruder enter a building.
On Monday, Jan. 6, Centerville Community School District staff received a day’s worth of training on the new program. Approximately 140 teachers, support staff, bus drivers and custodians took part in the training.
The training, which the Daily Iowegian was allowed to attend, included instruction and back-and-forth dialogue between local emergency personnel as well as the staff themselves.
Mike Moore, assistant police chief at the Centerville Police Department, led most of the instruction portion of the Monday morning meeting at Simon Estes Auditorium. Other area agencies represented at the training in addition to the Centerville Police Department were the Appanoose County Sheriff’s Office, ADLM Emergency Management and the Centerville Fire Department.
ALICE is an acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. The five words that create the acronym aren’t necessarily meant to be used in the order, and not necessarily all techniques will be used in a given situation.
During the instruction period, Moore explained the difference between policies of the past and the movement towards ALICE.
The policies that the ALICE procedure is replacing are ones that called for school-wide lockdowns and for students and staff to hide in classrooms. The Columbine shooting, one of the first and most serious mass school shootings to occur in the United States, was used as a major example of the former lockdown and hide style policy in comparison to the new evacuate if possible procedures that are a major focus of ALICE.
A driving point of the instruction was illustrating that a lockdown and hide strategy leads to easy victims for an armed intruder.
“Being static is the worst possible thing you could do,” Moore said during Monday’s instruction.
Now, it is being encouraged to evacuate the building and threat area whenever possible while locking down only in areas where it is not safe or possible to evacuate.
The ALICE instruction also provided tips for staff to be able to use in order to pacify a shooting suspect, if necessary, and also how to use tools readily available in the classroom to safely lockdown and protect students in the event of an active shooter or other serious emergency in a school building.
School procedures aren’t the only things that are being updated. How law enforcement responds to and handles active shooter situations at schools has changed as well.
Formerly, law enforcement would wait for several responding officers or SWAT teams to arrive on scene before they would enter the building and attempt to neutralize a threat. Now, officers will begin immediately engaging any suspect upon an individual officer’s arrival to the scene.
During the instruction, it was estimated that law enforcement units would begin arriving on scene anywhere from one-four minutes. Response would be immediate if the school resource officer is already at the school in which an active shooter scenario would be unfolding.
However, teachers and staff were reminded during Monday’s instruction that they would be the true first responders in an active shooter situation, and should be prepared to handle such situations.
Following the morning instruction, staff were taken to their normal buildings for hands-on group instruction with the various techniques they were taught during the morning training. At the Monday, Jan. 13 School Board meeting several staff and administrators in attendance shared some thoughts about the training with the board.
"I don't know about anybody else but I thought it was excellent," said teacher Susan McDanel. "I think any public group should have at least a basic knowledge so that they also…have that variety of options."
That sentiment was echoed by the other staff members in attendance.
"It was an excellent training," said Marchelle Brown. "I walked away feeling like we had options that going into it I really didn't realize before. It took me from a real old school mentality to a new mentality. All of them that presented were great. You could tell that they themselves had spent time and been trained well in it."
"You don't have to lose all control," said Janice Bolger. "You still have a little bit of control you could take and change the situation."
Principals also said that they had had universal positive feedback from their staff members.
"Our feedback from our staff at Lakeview was very, very positive," said Lakeview Elementary principal Terri Schofield.
"With Garfield and Lincoln having the smaller schools, the teachers appreciated the fact that they could practice in the afternoon to see exactly what they would do in case of an intruder," said principal Dianne Fatka.
Teacher Mark Taylor said that he wanted the public to understand that the training wasn't to tell staff to confront active shooters.
"We weren't taught how to attack a gunman," said Taylor. "We were taught ways to keep students safe, keep ourselves safe."
Superintendent Tony Ryan said that the training on Monday, as well as a previous ALICE training some staff had been involved with both emphasized the importance of doing what could be done in the moment with the information on hand and making the best possible decisions based on each unique scenario.
"What I got out of it was that seconds save lives," said Ryan.