By Chris Umscheid
North Liberty Leader
OXFORD– Schools have always prepared for emergency situations and changed their responses as new threats emerged. In the 1950s, “duck and cover” drills prepared the students in case of nuclear attack while fire drills and tornado drills have been a part of the school year seemingly forever.
Now there is a new threat: an active shooter.
The massacre in Newtown, Conn. put the spotlight on threat to students and staff posed by an armed individual, as did earlier acts of mass murder at Virginia Tech and the high school in Columbine, Colo. In response to those incidents, schools were instructed to go into a lockdown mode at the first sign of trouble. Teachers were told to lock their classroom doors, turn out the lights and huddle the students in a corner, out of sight from the doorway.
And hope that help arrives quickly.
Now school administrators are being taught a new paradigm in active shooter response called ALICE: Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. The program, developed in 2000 and first implemented two years later, is the brainchild of Greg Crane, a former Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) cop. Crane went on to found Response Options, a training company specializing in critical incident response. According to Response Options’ website, nearly two million students have been trained in or are now being exposed to the program, which has caught the attention of the federal government.
On June 18, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden released new guidelines for school safety in the wake of the Newtown slaughter. The new guidelines incorporate fighting back, as a last resort, if the lockdown and hiding don’t work.
“ALICE is more proactive,” Clear Creek Elementary (CCE) Principal Dan Dvorak told the Clear Creek Amana (CCA) school board during their regular monthly meeting Wednesday, Aug. 21, in Oxford. Dvorak and Amana Elementary Principal Ben Macumber recently took ALICE training and reported on their experience, and the concept.
“It’s out the windows, out the doors. It’s a whole different philosophy in looking at a lockdown,” Dvorak said referring to the evacuate portion of the program. In the past, a lockdown meant sheltering in place, often with disastrous results; the plan now is to evacuate the building by any available means. Also included is a better way of letting everybody affected know what’s going on in real time, consistently throughout the crisis.
“Communicate, communicate, communicate,” Macumber said. He described the training, which included participating in active shooter scenarios, as very intense. “Counter” means employing any and all possible means to distract or disrupt the shooter. Macumber explained this included throwing things at the shooter in an attempt to distract them long enough to attempt an escape.
Dvorak said CCE has pre-determined escape routes and rendezvous points ,but they will not be made public in the interest of safety and security for students and staff. Neither will specifics of how the district plans to implement ALICE. The need for secrecy is a double-edged sword for board members like Jim Seelman, who pointed out the need for the board to be involved in the planning process. Seelman wants the ability to discuss safety/security issues in closed session (not open to the public or the media). However, under current Iowa Open Meeting laws, only topics regarding personnel matters or property purchase discussions are allowed in closed session. After the meeting Seelman emphasized that the greatest responsibility the board has is the safety of the students. He said he was also dismayed when the Des Moines Register published a map detailing the security capabilities of schools in Iowa in March of this year. Critics said the map literally pinpointed which schools were vulnerable and therefore easy targets. The Register removed the map from their website. The map also fueled debate regarding installing armed guards, or allowing faculty and staff to be armed in the schools.
With a new elementary school and expansions and renovation at the middle and high school level likely in the next few years, Shive-Hattery’s Keith Johnk was asked about designing schools for increased security. Johnk indicated new construction guidelines are coming out all the time in response to various incidents. He said it used to be undesirable to have classroom doors lockable from the inside. “The kids could lock out the teacher,” Johnk said. “Now its 180-degrees different.” Engineering obstacles to an intruder can only go so far, though.
“If someone wants in badly enough, they’ll find a way in,” said Dvorak.
The answer, he said, is that schools have to have a way out.