KENT: A group of community leaders, school officials and fire and law enforcement representatives met with parents, students and residents Monday at Kent Roosevelt High School to discuss a safety initiative being implemented across the entire district.
At the heart of the new building safety and emergency response is the idea of being proactive and not simply instructing students, teachers or anyone involved in an "active shooter" incident to hide in a corner and wait for danger to pass.
ALICE, which stands for "Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate," originated in Dallas, Tex. in 1999. It was the brainchild of two police officers discussing emergency response policies at schools where their wives worked and has grown into a national program used at schools, government buildings, hospitals and other facilities where shootings and incidents of armed violence may occur.
The seven-person Community Partnership Team in Kent consisting of safety officials, police and school district representatives presented general plans for implementing ALICE in the district and answered questions from residents about their concerns over how the change from current safety procedures would affect their children.
Team member Lt. Joseph A. Hendry Jr. of the Kent State Police Department, a nationally certified ALICE instructor who has conducted classes for a number of local school districts and hospitals and worked with the U.S. Department of Justice, gave a presentation entitled "Active Shooters: Why a lockdown is not enough."
Hendry explained the problem with a lockdown is that such a static, rigid plan does not adapt and change with the fluid nature of an active shooting incident.
"Law enforcement response changes with every situation," Hendry said. "In a typical active shooter situation, police response time is an average of five minutes. Shooters fire a shot an average of every 15 seconds and the average incident is over in three to four minutes."
Because of those figures, Sgt. Mike Lewis of the Kent Police Department emphasized the importance of empowering teachers and other school employees to make decisions and act, because many times shootings begin and end before law enforcement is able to arrive on the scene.
"Shooters aren't looking for a fight with the police," Lewis said multiple times during the meeting. "They're looking for people who won't fight back and they're looking for a body count."
ALICE encourages trainees to be proactive in the event of direct contact with an active shooter, using tactics like yelling, throwing any objects that are at hand and using swarming techniques to take down a shooter before he or she can pull the trigger.
Evacuation is part of the process as well and the system also calls for setting up "rally points" where evacuees can go once they exit a building, but Hendry pointed out that escaping is not always an option and when there is no safe route out of a structure, individuals must know how to react. He told a story of an ALICE drill in the Avon Lake school district in which high school students were able to subdue an officer posing as a shooter before he was able to fire off any shots after breaking through the door.
Kent City Schools Director of Business Services Jim Soyars, who attended a three-day training session led by Hendry, related his own story of being part of a drill in which he and other trainees practiced the lockdown tactic of hiding in a corner. The officer in the drill was able to "shoot" every person in the room and Soyars described it as "the most helpless feeling" imaginable.
Implementing ALICE will not be a quick or simple process for the district. Soyars laid out the plan for transitioning from current safety policies to the more-proactive stance called for by the program. The process has already begun, with school employees and staff members meeting with Hendry to learn about the system. The next step is having those employees go through ALICE training, something Soyars said the district hopes to do by the end of the first semester of the current school year, in January.
After that, the training process will broaden to include students. Parents will receive information about what to expect and what their children will be taught, Soyars explained, and being informed is vital so there is no miscommunication or misunderstanding in the event of an emergency. There was no single incident that sparked the district's interest in ALICE, Soyars said, but rather a realization that students, teachers and employees needed a better response to crises.
"In attending professional conferences and having one of our assistant principals hear about ALICE, we realized we needed more training for our teachers, our office workers and our kids," Soyars said. "They need a better way to respond."