School safety

People participate in an ALICE training — alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate -— in August 2016 in Pequot Lakes High School. (Forum News Service file photo)

Kenyon-Wanamingo students Pre-K through 12th grade classrooms will notice a different approach to lockdown and safety drills within the next couple weeks.

Goodhue County is striving to standardize approach to school safety so each district in the county is following the same procedures, something safety personnel say allows them to more efficient and arrive to the intended location more quickly.

Empowering individuals

Districts are moving toward the ALICE system, which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate. Alert means the notification of danger. It’s inviting anyone and everyone to be on the lookout for danger. A traditional lockdown consists of teachers barricading the doors and preparing to counter and evacuate in needed. With the idea of inform, instead of saying there is a stay put drill, staff will instead notify the whole school what’s going on. This also invites students to use whatever they can to share as much information as they have. Counter, used as a last resort, asks students to make noise and/or throw things to distract or confuse an intruder.

For younger students, they are taught about the zig-zag run, with the idea that a squirrel on branch is easier target than one running up a tree. Evacuate means to find a reunification point or rally point so they have a general sense of a safe place to go. Students are encouraged to get there as quickly and safely as possible. Rally points are predetermined and are given to parents. Although a lockdown is the first approach, evacuation is the safest approach.

K-6 Principal Katy Schuerman is confident in the ALICE approach to safety and the strategies.

“I feel good about the direction in which we are heading,” Schuerman said. “Student and staff safety is a primary concern of mine and I think the ALICE approach gives tools and strategies to members of the school community to respond proactively to a crisis situation. It has helped us evaluate and improve our safety practices as well as align our procedures with other schools in Goodhue County.”

The ALICE Training program was created out of a husband’s desire for his wife to have a better plan in case of an active shooter event. At the time of the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, Greg Crane was a law enforcement officer in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and his wife, Lisa, was an elementary principal. While both prepared in their professional lives for that type of event, it was not until a conversation around the dinner table that the two created the ALICE Training program.

Crane, and a fellow officer, set out to create a plan based on the strategies that brought them through some violent shooting situations. Through years of development, modifications, additions, deletions and a lot of input from other ALICE Training instructors across the country, the program is the first in the country to use option-based, proactive, survival strategies to prepare for active shooter events.

The ALICE vision is to empower everyone with the skills and knowledge to respond if and when shots are fired. If the police can’t arrive in time to help, the next best thing is to prepare people to help themselves until public safety arrives.

Rethinking strategies

Sadly, there have been enough mass shootings for crime and security specialists to study what is happening during active shooting situations. They have found that there’s a greater percentage of lives saved when proactive steps are taken to counter the violence or break the ‘ooda loop’ — observe, orient, decide and act — the standard process everyone goes through to when responding to stimulus.

In the past, there have been two historical approaches to safety drills — ‘stay put’ and ‘duck and cover.’

The stay put drill is when the doors are locked and students remain in the classroom, unable to be released to the restrooms or nurse’s office. Often times this drill is used for instances like medical emergencies or chemical spills. Duck and cover is a traditional approach where students are asked to practice being silent and invisible.

Over the next couple of weeks, K-W staff will begin talking about the shift in procedures with students who are used to turning off lights, locking doors, covering windows and hiding under desks in lockdown situations. Since police need to be able to see inside the classroom during emergencies, they will also move away from barricading doors and covering windows. K-W will continue to bring in certified trainers to train staff and talking about different scenarios that may occur, with different age levels. The first school-wide ALICE safety drill is planned for Nov. 13.

In its 2007 publication, The US Department of Education’s guidance for active shooter response was limited to lockdown. The 2013 edition expands the guidance to include multiple options that go beyond lockdown including run, hide or fight. It also recognizes that staff and students may have to use more than one option and that the decision to do so should be made using their own judgment.

Reach reporter Michelle Vlasak at 507-333-3128 or follow her on Twitter @apgmichelle. ©Copyright 2019 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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