TOWNSEND — How can schools keep students safe in the event of an armed intruder? Should there be a lockdown, where students and staff remain in the classroom, or should they evacuate?
There is no one answer. Making the right choice can change as a situation progresses, said Townsend Police Lt. Mark Giancotti.
“You just want to be out of the danger zone,” he said.
Last year, he and Sgt. Kim Mattson took two days of training at Fitchburg State University in ALICE. The nationally-used program has a set of proactive stages that are put in place if a dangerous situation erupts in a school.
“I think it’s a positive program,” he said. It increases the chances of survival in an actual shooter event.
Giancotti explained the protocol. ALICE stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate.
Individuals, armed with alerts about an ongoing situation, are called on to decide whether to barricade a room and remain, or to leave the building. The alerts usually come from the main office, but could be from another location like a cafeteria, he said.
The alert will have information about the threat and where the problem is.
At the preschool and elementary school levels, the staff make the decisions for the students. In the middle and high schools, students can make the decision for themselves.
A lockdown may be short-term, giving people the chance to assess the situation and decide what action to take. While a lockdown is in effect, the room should be made more secure.
“What we want to see is a barricade,” Giancotti said. “The intent is to slow down the bad guy from reaching you.”
Current information is key. The situation could change quickly. Part of the ALICE protocol is ensuring that everyone has the most current information. It is an extension of the alert phase, he said.
Countering needs to occur if the threat is upon you. “Do nothing and get harmed or attack the perpetrator,” Giancotti said.
During one school drill, the students had empty water bottles. “I went in there. I was the bad guy,” Giancotti said. “They expected me. When I opened the door I was attacked by water bottles.”
Evacuation is an option with ALICE. Except in the lowest grade levels, individual students can choose to leave by the nearest exit and meet at a rallying point.
Buses are on alert to gather the students from the rallying point, he said. Parents will be notified kept in the loop if ALICE is triggered.
The program is for all grade levels, but staff make decisions in for the youngest students. Giancotti said a drill at the Squannacook Early Childhood Center went very well.
The children stayed quiet, in single lines. There were absolutely no problems, he said.
It is important the students get used to seeing police in schools so they do not panic when officers show up, Giancotti said. Holding drills is part of the preparedness.
Instead of a fire drill, where people are preconditioned to empty the building, an ALICE drill has a different intent.
“This empowers the students to make decisions based on what they know at that place in time,” he said.
ALICE was not used on May 7 at the high school when a male juvenile was arrested, Giancotti said. The administration was already working on the situation.
Follow Anne O’Connor on Twitter and Tout @a1oconnor.