Brunswick schools adopt new emergency-response procedure

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BRUNSWICK — The School Board voted unanimously Nov. 9 to implement an active-shooter response plan.

The plan, known as ALICE, an acronym for “alert, lock down, inform, counter, evacuate,” emphasises teachers and students having a more active response to armed school intruders than previous lockdown procedures.

School Resource Officer Thomas Stanton gave a presentation on ALICE at the meeting, outlining the training teachers and students will receive under the new plan and answering questions from board members.

Former lockdown procedures mainly followed shelter-in-place guidelines, instructing students to sit quietly in their classrooms in a designated area during a school intrusion. Stanton said the original rules were created as a response to drive-by shootings in California in the 1980s.

“It was never meant for an intruder inside a building, but it was something, and I think we can do more now,” Stanton said.

He added the ALICE procedure is more in-line with the guidelines police and fire departments have been moving toward since 9/11.

The alert and inform steps of the new procedure allow students and staff to know the details of a crisis as it is happening, which is a departure from the old plan, in which code words or phrases were broadcast during drills and emergencies.

Stanton used the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado, as an example of old guidelines making an emergency situation worse, although he emphasized he was not critiquing the response of the victims.

In that instance, students and a faculty member at Columbine stayed in the school’s library for several minutes even after hearing gunshots in the hallway. Many were shot after the gunmen entered. Eventually, survivors evacuated the room, a maneuver Stanton said may have saved more lives if it had been executed earlier.

“They were doing what they were trained to do because they weren’t trained,” he said.

Stanton also discussed the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and said some students who ran away during the attack survived. He added local police would have no problem locating children who run away from school grounds during an attack.

“We will find kids that go out into the community,” he said.

With the ALICE plan, teachers are trained in different maneuvers and how to identify which is best suited to the emergency situation at hand. The lockdown step of the procedure indicates teachers should identify if evacuation would be possible during an emergency, and if not, how to effectively barricade students into the classroom or counter the intruder as a last resort.

Stanton described the counter approach as students and teachers interrupting the shooter’s thought process by standing up, yelling or throwing things at the attacker.

Chairwoman Joy Prescott expressed concern about how realistic the drills would be and the emotional impact they might have on students, particularly younger ones. She added students might take the same combative approach they learned in the ALICE drills in confrontations with other students.

“For most of these kids an active shooter is as much as a threat they’d feel from a bully,” she said.

Stanton responded by saying the ALICE training varies by grade level, and the scripts used during drills are age appropriate. For kindergartners, for example, a picture book equating school intruders to wolves and students to sheep is used as a teaching tool.

Brunswick is the first School Department in the area to implement ALICE, although Stanton said the Biddeford School Department is also considering making the switch. Bath and Topsham police officers are also qualified to administer ALICE training, and Stanton said he hopes to hold a public forum to educate parents about the new program.

Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski said he thinks the updated emergency procedure is necessary and compared ALICE training to air raid drills he had to practice as a student.

“Every generation has its issues, but this one’s really scary because it can happen anywhere,” Perzanoski said. “It’s a hard subject. It’s hard to discuss, but it’s a reality in 2017.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.