School safety: Brattleboro high school to practice 'ALICE' exercise

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BRATTLEBORO >> Seeking to change the way schools respond to the threat of armed intruders, Greg Crane founded the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate) Training Institute, which "teaches age-appropriate strategies to survive a life-threatening event," according to his biography on the ALICE website. Crane has "more than 25 years of experience as a law enforcement officer and security consultant" and he developed the program to "keep his wife's (an elementary school principal) school safe after the events of Columbine."

On Wednesday, March 23, at 8:45 a.m., as part of an ALICE exercise, Brattleboro Union High School will conduct a Reunification Drill under the direction of Chris Day, assistant principal, in conjunction with Brattleboro police and fire departments.

"We're developing a systematic way of reuniting parents and students in case of an event," Day said. "School officials are working with the town. We'll try it with a hundred students and see how it works full-scale. Counselors and principals will role-play parents."

In June 2015, after the end of the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union school year, administrators received a two-day ALICE training, Day said.

"There were 25 or 30 of us and the certified trainer from the AT Institute," he said. "The first day we went over the tenets of ALICE. There was a slide show. He was using real-life examples: the transcript from Columbine, the shootings in Newtown, Conn., Florida and at Virginia Tech."

The second day, the trainer assumed the role of an armed intruder and told the group to follow what has been the previous "lock-down only" policy of BUHS.

"We went into the classroom and lined up under the cupboards," Day said. "We could hear him getting closer and closer. It was crazy. And he walked into the room and 'shot' us."

The next run-through, the group followed the tenets of ALICE and barricaded the door. The 'shooter' couldn't get through.

"It was way more effective than the old method," Day said. "All of us were believers after that."

Early on in the evolution of ALICE training, the prevailing thought was of having students swarm the shooter, but that is no longer the case, Day said, adding, "The training is clear: Do not train students to swarm the shooter. That might be a last resort only for adults. Barricading or evacuating are the first resorts. The idea is to use what you have. Heavy objects, like a teacher's desk, make good barricades."

Day has given ALICE workshops to staff at the Windham Regional Career Center, Brattleboro Area Middle School, as well as BUHS, in order to "give the same message at the same time to everybody," he said. He has also presented at Oak Grove School in Brattleboro, Guilford Central School, and Vernon Elementary School.

"Elementary school is different," he said. "You're still relying on the teachers to guide the kids, who can't be as independent in their decision-making as high school students."

There is no blue-print for rolling out ALICE training, Day said, noting that he has talked to an adviser at the Vermont Agency of Education and talked with other schools. "Everyone is at step one with this," he said. "We've had to slow down the process of rolling it out."

A 45-minute Power Point presentation to teachers did not make teachers comfortable with the concept, so in-service time has been allocated for practical exercises. Day made presentations to groups of BUHS students, as well – freshmen and sophomores, then juniors and seniors. During practice exercises with students, administrators "walked around by hallway, partnering with the teachers," Day said.

"All the student feedback has been positive," he said. "Students have been engaged and thoughtful about the training."

Nancy A. Olson can be reached at olsonnan47@gmail.com.


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