With the tragic school shooting in Washington all too fresh in their minds, AAPS parents gathered at Pioneer High School recently to learn about the district’s new protocol for handling the highly unlikely chance that a gunman enters a school.
More than 2,000 district staffers have already been trained in the new ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate) emergency system, and eventually training will extend to everyone who works in an AAPS building.
Learning the new training model and the options that increase chances of survival during an armed intruder event is a “really big deal,” said Superintendent Jeanice Swift, who noted that school safety is the district’s top priority.
“It shifts our thinking from simply the lockdown-take cover mode,” Swift told parents gathered in Pioneer’s Little Theater.
During an hour-long presentation filled with chilling accounts of school shootings and the lessons learned from each response, Lt. Matthew Lige of the Ann Arbor Police Department told the parents that everything changed the day after the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
He said that’s when he and other law enforcement officials realized something needed to replace the standard response of lockdown and setting a perimeter.
The way things had been done, he said, was “flat-out inefficient.”
The Sandy Hook tragedy forced all 11 law enforcement agencies in the county to agree to one unified method to react to any active shooter situation in the county, he said.
Adopting the research-based ALICE system within every public school district has been one of the most meaningful endeavors in his 20-year career, Lige said.
“We don’t want to scare you,” said Lige. “But as parents, I want you to be mindful that these things happen. With ALICE, we’re better prepared.”
Using the ALICE protocol, AAPS staff now have other options against an active shooter besides going into lockdown.
“We’re saying, `Use any of these five responses,” he said. “ALICE is not step-by-step, but options that empower you to act.”
He said that in too many instances, people who could have evacuated to safety didn’t do so because they were conditioned to react in lockdown mode.
In addition to evacuating when it is safe to do so, options include:
- Providing real-time information on the PA system.
- Listening carefully to the location and type of event.
- Getting to and/or remain in a secure area until it is safe to evacuate.
- Should an armed intruder/active shooter invade their area, apply skills to distract, confuse, and gain control.
- As soon as it is safe to do so, evacuate.
In order not to instill undue fear, AAPS students will not be trained in the ALICE procedure. But in an age appropriate way, they will discuss with their teachers alternative responses to lockdown, including evacuation, hiding in another location, and barricading the door.
Lige said children are so accustomed to the orderly lines formed in fire drills, that in case after case during a school shooting, students have walked right past emergency exits that would have led to safety.
ALICE gives them options, and feedback from the training sessions indicates that teachers feel empowered and grateful to be able to do something.
District spokeswoman Liz Margolis told the parents that district and school-level crisis teams for several years have been trained to deal with a crisis, and ALICE enhances their knowledge.
Within the past few years, all AAPS exterior doors except the main doors have been kept locked, and within the coming school year, the main doors will be locked, as well, she said.
Although the Sandy Hook shooter blasted through the locked door to the school, that action alerted school officials to the situation and probably saved lives, Lige said, noting that in a crisis, every minute is crucial.
According to the ALICE Training Institute, most violent intruder situations last between five and seven minutes. First responders typically take longer than that to get to the scene, which means civilians already on site have stopped active shooter events twice as many times as police.
Abbot parent Erika Johnson said she attended the forum because she’s a mom and a teacher’s wife.
“And Sandy Hook is still very fresh,” she said. “We all know the old system doesn’t work. I’m interested to see what this new system is about, and how do I talk to my kids about it”
Following the forum, which ended with a question-answer period, Johnson was visibly emotional from considering the subject matter in such depth.
She said ALICE sounds like “the right thing.”
“I liked hearing (Lige) say that teachers and staff feel empowered after the training,” she said. “I just hope we never have to use it.”
Frequently Asked Questions concerning implementing the ALICE program:
Why change what has always worked?
Has “Lockdown” really worked, or have just the practice drills always worked? We know the names of many schools around the world precisely because “Lockdown” did not meet their needs during the violence, and tragedy ensued.
Isn’t this what the police are for?
Obviously the police cannot be at all places, all of the time. Hundreds of rounds can be expended in just mere minutes. Remember Stay Alive Until Police Arrive!
Should we be teaching aggression in schools?
This training is teaching proactive, survival skills. Aggressiveness is a mindset that will assist a person in putting those skills to work.
Could we be training our future “enemy”?
Yes, we could. But there could very well be a deterrent effect caused due to this training if the future attacker knows their goals of a body-count will be very limited at this institution.
Won’t we lose control of the event if people make their own decision and do whatever they decide they need to do?
Yes, there will be a time when centralized Command and Control will be lost. But in actuality, there is anyway. During the initial attack, the attacker is in control. Proactive action on behalf of the targets, will quickly remove his Command and Control. Also, Command and Control ability of the Administration and Police is secondary to the ability of those under attack to survive.
Isn’t there a possibility of secondary attacks if people are trying to leave the area?
There is always a possibility of a secondary attack, no matter what the event. But our fear of the unknown should not interfere with our manner of dealing with the known. Common sense says a shooter inside the building should dictate getting out, much more than the fear of perhaps another shooter outside should dictate staying inside with the known shooter. Any shooters outside will be contacted and neutralized by police much quicker than one inside the building.
Do we want the bad guy to know that we know where he is?
What could we tell him that he doesn’t already know?
Won’t proactive actions agitate the gunman to commit violence?
It is accepted that these people seek one thing – as big a body count as they can achieve in the time afforded to them. How can a determined killer be made more violent?
Who should make the decision as to what is the best option to take?
Those under attack should make the decision that is best for them given the situation. It is unrealistic to think we can write a policy that ten years down the road will precisely fit the violent situation we are experiencing. Information and training is what will allow those under attack to make an informed decision to Fight, Flight, or Freeze, and that will lead to their survival.