After several events that have shaken the nation, schools must now answer the question: What happens when there is a violent intruder?
Several school districts around Missouri have been practicing a program called ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) training and have been bumping up security parameters around their schools.
ALICE training has been around for a long time, but several school districts are just now engaging in the active-shooter training. However, ALICE training is nothing new to the Columbia Public School District.
ALICE has been taught in Columbia since October 2012, and is now gaining popularity elsewhere in the state from Senate Bill 75, which states that each school district may participate in the training, said John White, Columbia Public School District’s security director.
“With the new passage of Senate Bill 75, every school in Missouri is going to have to do some kind of active-shooter drill witnessed by police,” he said. “The state is mandating that we kick everything up a notch from what we have been doing in the past, and rightfully so.”
White said the ALICE program is no different from the program Homeland Security puts out called “Run, Hide, Fight.”
“You run if you can, hide if you can and you fight if you have to,” White said. “It’s a philosophy on what to do if there is an active shooter in your building and it applies everywhere.”
One thing the ALICE program focuses on is getting out of a situation rather than just hoping the situation won’t reach you, White said. The evacuation aspect of ALICE is vital and is what the administrators are trying to pass on to students and teachers.
“For years it was just lockdown: You turn the lights off and hide in a corner,” he said. “But we’re trying to take that a step forward. Although there are situations when a room needs to be locked down, if you’re not in the hot zone, we want you to escape thoroughly and get out of the building. I’ve found that after teaching the teachers and students this, it gives them a feeling of empowerment. We can do something more than just sit here and hope the bad guy goes away.”
ALICE is just an acronym, but the ALICE training gives teachers choices instead of feeling that they just have to turn their lights off and hide. Neil Glass, assistant superintendent of Cape Girardeau Public Schools, said Cape Girardeau schools also focus on evacuation and not becoming static targets.
“If the intruder gets into (a locked-down room), he has a perfectly still target that he can encounter,” Glass said. “We want to be dynamic, up and moving, and evacuating if we’re not in the same part of the school as the shooter.”
ALICE is a big part of many school districts’ active-shooter training and plan, but it is not all of it. Several districts, including the Columbia School District, have buzz-in systems, cameras, two-way radios and even buttons that can summon the police if pushed. But even with all of the new technology, every school still needs to have a plan of action.
“When seconds count, the police are always minutes away,” White said. “(All of the new technology) is a great tool to have, but is designed to buy us time until the police can get there. You have to have something more than a lockdown drill or to hope the (intruder) goes away.”
Preparing for the worst-case scenario and making a plan are two things that the Columbia Public School District takes pride in.
“Training for how to handle a situation is imperative, which is why we practice, practice, practice,” CPS spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said. “The safety of students and staff is always our first priority.”