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Campus rallies for new crisis training

In an effort to revamp the school’s emergency preparedness system, the school has teamed up with the ALICE Training Institute, the most widely used active-shooter response program in the United States, according to Boston Magazine.

Founded by law enforcement officer and security expert Greg Crane after the Columbine High School massacre that killed 15 people in 1999, ALICE provides online and onsite training and aims to prepare civilians for active-shooter events, terrorist attacks, and mass shootings, according to its website.

ALICE is an acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate—the five options that make up the emergency-response system— and works with schools, police departments, government and religious organizations, healthcare facilities, and corporations nationwide. 

“Alert” involves overcoming denial, recognizing signs of danger, and receiving notifications about the danger from others. “Lockdown” involves preparing to respond to potential danger if escaping a room is too risky. “Inform” involves communicating effectively about the evolving situation in real time so that others can react wisely. “Counter” offers strategies for distracting and disorienting an attacker with physical force if no other options are feasible. And “Evacuate,” the best option where possible, relates to leaving the premises to get out of harm’s way.

Head of School Rebecca Upham said that after tuning into debates among law enforcement and educators about the efficacy of traditional lockdown procedures over the years since the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, she and fellow senior administrators no longer felt confident that the school’s lockdown program was the best approach. Starting in May, Ms. Upham, Special Advisor to the Head of School Thom Greenlaw, and Manager of Security & Transportation Kathy Murphy accordingly researched programs that would allow community members to take a more active role in their own safety, Ms. Upham said.

Mr. Greenlaw, the administrative contact for ALICE, said the group settled on ALICE because of the support it received from other schools and from the Cambridge Police Department (CPD).

“ALICE was developed specifically for educators and students, so it’s not a generic program,” Mr. Greenlaw said. “It’s very specific to schools. However, this training also applies in your daily life, not just at school—when you’re at a movie theater or an airport or at the mall.”

In the summer, the school’s senior administrators took ALICE’s online training course, which outlined the details of each emergency response option represented by the ALICE acronym. The group discussed the course and unanimously decided to sponsor the enrollment of all faculty and staff, including bus drivers and kitchen staff, with instructions that they complete the hour-long online training over winter break. 

As of February 20, 222 faculty and staff had complied, Mr. Greenlaw reported.

“I found the training practical and engrossing,” English Teacher Allison Kornet said. “We learned methods for barricading doors and breaking windows, we learned strategies for hindering and confusing a shooter in the event of a confrontation, and we even practiced distinguishing various gunshot sounds from other similar noises.” 

Spanish Teacher Margot Caso said she is ready to do live drills.

“I think it’s important to give teachers and students tools to deal with the possibility of an active shooter,” she said. “At the very least, it gives one a sense of control even though it’s difficult to say how one would react under such chaotic and dangerous circumstances.”

In December during winter break, the school also paid for Ms. Murphy, Facilities Manager Brian Sands, Assistant Director of Athletics Greg Pugh, and two members of the CPD to attend a two-day, 16-hour intensive course to certify them to instruct their colleagues in ALICE. The school plans to pay for more faculty and staff across the campuses to undergo instructor certification training. 

As part of this course, the 24 trainees underwent various simulations of active-shooter situations. In the last of the day, Mr. Sands played the active shooter tasked with wielding a non-lethal airsoft gun and attempting to infiltrate rooms filled with other trainees. In the first room Mr. Sands tried to enter, he said, the trainees did not know when he would arrive and chose the “Counter” response from ALICE. When he opened the door, they started pelting him with stress balls given to them as one means of incapacitating an active shooter.

“Before I knew it, I was disarmed, on the ground, disoriented, and, for a lack of better term, ineffective at what my job was in that scenario,” Mr. Sands said. Over about a minute and a half, he added, other trainees prevented him from entering multiple rooms, and he ultimately managed to fire only two projectiles from his airsoft gun.

Mr. Sands said he originally wasn’t sold on the idea of ALICE because of its divergence from the traditional lockdown method, but he found the instructor training “eye-opening” and now fully supports the new approach. 

“ALICE works better for dynamic situations, and it gives everyone options,” he said. “It doesn’t corner you into a [lockdown] approach that, in my opinion, doesn’t hold any merit anymore.”

ALICE drills should be practiced as often as fire drills, Mr. Sands added.

“We practice fire drills for the worst-case scenario just like we should practice ALICE for the worst-case scenario,” he said.

On February 20 when employees from all three campuses gathered for a professional day, Mr. Sands, Ms. Murphy, and Mr. Greenlaw brought their knowledge of ALICE training to a two-hour workshop at the Upper School (US). There faculty and staff reviewed the online program, heard statistics about gun violence, mulled current events like the Parkland shooting—which had coincidentally happened less than a week earlier—and divided into smaller, campus-specific groups to discuss safety concerns and strategies, Mr. Greenlaw said.

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