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home : news : news Thursday, April 28, 2016

4/17/2013 Email this articlePrint this article 
Northeast parents learn about ALICE security procedures

By Jeremy Huss
Staff writer

A small crowd of nine people came out to learn about a big change in school safety and security procedures in the Northeast Community School District at a special meeting Tuesday night, April 9.

Guidance counselor Bryce Bielenberg and assistant secondary schools principal Phil Bormann presented information on the district's adoption of the ALICE program, a new response protocol for students and staff to use in the event of a violent intruder on school grounds.

ALICE, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate, is intended to give students and staff better options in an emergency situation than they have with the district's current lockdown procedure.

The school district started researching the ALICE program about a year ago, Bielenberg said, and last fall, administrators participated in a mock shooter drill held at Central Community High School in DeWitt.

"That really opened our eyes as to what ALICE was really about. It gave us more options, and we experienced those options firsthand," Bielenberg said.

In March, eight Northeast staff members participated in 16 hours of ALICE training and then presented a shortened, three-hour training course to the district's full staff.

The presentation Tuesday night was scheduled as an opportunity to inform parents about the new procedures and answer any questions they might have.

"What we're really after is to provide people more options than just a lockdown, which is what we've been doing the last several years," Bielenberg said.

Currently, if school officials believe there is a safety threat, they will use the intercom system to announce a building lockdown.

When the order goes out, teachers respond by locking doors, shutting off lights and closing blinds. They're instructed to keep students and themselves away from doors and to sit and wait quietly for law enforcement to arrive.

"From our response training, we've learned that's not quite enough," Bormann explained.

Bormann said it's important to keep in mind ALICE is not sequential - rather, it is a list of options that may be open to building occupants if there an active shooter on the loose.

The biggest difference from the current lockdown procedure is ALICE focuses on helping students and staff escape from a threat proactively, rather than waiting passively behind a door.

The "Alert" component means a staff member will go to a secure area and announce specifics of the situation over the building intercom.

The district has identified a potential location for a "safe room" that would allow communication with the rest of the school.

The "Lockdown" component of ALICE means getting to a secure location, but it doesn't necessarily mean staying there.

"With ALICE, lockdown doesn't mean lock-in. Everyone has the right to escape," Bormann said.

ALICE builds on lessons learned during past school shooting incidents such as the 1999 attack at Columbine High School and the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting.

In both instances, large numbers of students and staff were killed when they followed lockdown procedures and stayed in one place.

At Columbine, students hid under desks in the library while an injured librarian talked to 911 dispatchers. The shooters, who were outside the library, continued their spree for at least 5 minutes before entering the library and killing 10 and wounding 12 others. No one tried to escape through a nearby exit until after the shooters entered the library.

At Virginia Tech, kill rates were high in classrooms where students and staff followed the lockdown procedure. In rooms where they barricaded doors and jumped out of windows to escape, the survival rate was much better.

According to Bormann, 28 people were killed in rooms where the response was passive, but only two were killed in rooms where proactive measures were taken to stop the shooter and escape.

The "Inform" component of ALICE is a continuation of the "alert," with staff giving real-time information to building occupants and/or law enforcement to help decision making and to confuse or frustrate the attacker.

The "Counter" portion of ALICE teaches students and staff to use whatever means are at hand to improve their chance of survival if they are unable to escape.

"This is a part of ALICE that's a last resort more than anything," Bormann said.

The key components are noise, movement, distance and distraction.

Yelling, screaming and throwing objects can disrupt an attacker's plans. Putting space and distance between yourself and the attacker and moving in a zigzag fashion will make you a more difficult target for a shooter.

"Overwhelm their senses with anything you have on hand so you can escape," Bormann said.

Data show casualty numbers fall dramatically in incidents where people attempt to counter an attacker rather than simply wait for law enforcement.

Most mass shootings last just 5-8 minutes, while Goose Lake's rural location means a realistic law enforcement response time is probably 20-25 minutes.

"That's our reality. We can't wait for help. We are the help," Bormann said.

District resident and chief sheriff's deputy Kevin Cain reinforced the importance of being proactive, saying Clinton County has three patrol deputies per shift covering 700 square miles.

The "evacuate" component of ALICE is arguably the most important.

The goal is to give people the ability and authority to leave, to maintain time and distance from an attacker, to remove targets from the area and to remove the need for family or friends to come to the school while an emergency situation is in progress.

The school has established reunification points for students and staff. Elementary students are directed to go to the community center, while middle/high school students will go across the highway to Swanton's Ag. Alternative school students will go to the C-Store.

Student training in ALICE will be age-appropriate, Bormann said.

Students in pre-kindergarten through second grade will be taught about movement, noise and evacuation, but they won't be asked to counter an attacker.

Students in grades 3-6 will learn the same basic information but also will be involved in developing classroom safety plans and discussing how to lock/barricade doors and break windows to escape.

Middle and high school students will be taught the full program, including the "swarm" technique to counter an attacker, with multiple individuals each grabbing an arm or leg to bring a threat under control. Students will be more active in developing classroom and school-wide safety plans.

Parents asked several questions about how the district will proceed from this point.

Student ALICE training will begin in the fall, and Bielenberg will initiate the discussion at elementary-level classes.

Some school districts run weekly drills on ALICE training; Northeast has no plans for such frequent re-training but will be teaching the program multiple times throughout the school year, Bormann said.

Drills will not involve students climbing out of windows or actually evacuating the building but will be more of a discussion on how they would respond in a real emergency.

Superintendent Jim Cox was asked about plans to upgrade building security with cameras and keyless doors.

Cox said the district has commissioned a study of its campus security but it will be 6-7 months before the report is complete.

"It's important to keep in mind, we can spend millions and still not prevent something," he said, noting Sandy Hook elementary had state-of-the-art security technology.

Bormann said the district has talked about a guard, but there aren't enough officers available, and armed guards haven't been a deterrent elsewhere.

"There are some things we're looking at, like having an officer closer, but there isn't any consensus yet," Bormann said.

Cain agreed with comments from one parent who said she works in a building with a guard and buzzer entry doors, but it amounts to a false sense of security because human behaviors often defeat the security measures, such as someone holding a door open for the next person.

Parents who attended the presentation were asked to spread the word to other Northeast community members about the district's implementation of the ALICE program.

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