Schools, police team for response program

SALEM – Survival – that’s the number one goal of an active shooter response program being instituted in Salem city schools.

“We’re constantly looking at ways to get better at keeping our kids safe,” Superintendent Tom Bratten said.

The school district and Salem Police Department are working together to put into place a program known simply as A.L.I.C.E., which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate.

Those five steps and options to consider will be taught to school staff members during training sessions on Thursday and next Monday. School will be on a two-hour delay each of those days to accommodate the training schedule, with notices being sent to parents.

“We’re training for a violent intruder, anybody who wants to go into a school or building and cause serious physical harm,” Salem Patrolman Brad Davis said.

Davis, who serves as the department’s juvenile officer and school resource officer, attended A.L.I.C.E. training with Salem schools Dean of Students Hank Brock, with the cost for both of them paid by the district. Bratten explained that once the staff is trained, the teachers will work with their students in their individual classrooms so they’ll know what to do if a potentially violent event occurs.

“There’s a mindset that it can’t happen here. If it happened in a one-room schoolhouse in Pennsylvania, it can certainly happen in Salem, Ohio,” Davis said, referring to a school shooting which cost the lives of several Amish students.

He said kids are trained now to lock the door, turn off the lights and sit in a corner until the police arrive, but he said that’s not good enough anymore. Instead, they’ll be taught to be more aware of their surroundings and options they can take.

Bratten said the training teachers do with the students will be age-appropriate. They may practice barricading a door. Some training, such as where to gather after leaving the building, won’t come until an event actually happens, if it happens.

Police Chief J.T. Panezott said there’s more than one way to do everything and this way, school staff members will have options for what they can do. In a press release that explained the program, he said the police department isn’t teaching fighting techniques, but instructors will teach survival strategies, with confrontation of an intruder a last resort.

Davis and Brock will be assisted by Salem’s newest patrolman, Craig Crider, who is also certified for the program and previously served as the school resource officer for the West Branch school district when he worked for the Goshen Township Police Department.

A press release explained each of the five A.L.I.C.E. steps, starting with Alert, to sound the alarm about the situation at hand and to call police, with information provided by all means possible, including the public address system.

Under Lockdown, doors should be locked to give students and staff time to recognize the threat and if they’re not in the danger zone, they should evacuate as fast as they can. Davis noted that if the threat is on the other side of the school building, there’s no reason to stay if students and teachers can safely get out.

Inform means to keep teachers, staff members and students and police up to date on the location of the threat in the school.

Counter means to interrupt the physical act of the shooting.

“If the shooter walks into a classroom or hall and you have no escape route, start throwing anything and everything you can at him to interrupt his shooting and his accuracy. This is a last resort and is a survival process to stay alive. If the gunman can be overpowered by multiple people after being distracted and hit with items, swarm the shooter and detain him,” the press release said.

The last step, Evacuate, means to get as many people away from the situation as possible, as fast as possible. Again, if a group of students isn’t near the shooter or the area where the activity is occurring, they should get out. Leave the building and go to a designated spot.

As part of the planning, police will know the designated spots where to expect students and staff members.

“We’re looking at different protocols to handle different types of situations and need to train our officers to be able to respond to those,” Panezott said.

Both he and Bratten thought the training was a great idea.

“We’re trying to increase our odds of survival,” Bratten said.

Part of the training will including barricading, if necessary, with Davis saying there’s a difference between that and just locking a door.

He used the shooting at the Virginia Tech campus several years ago as an example. In one room where they used a conventional lockdown technique, there were 14 in the room, with 10 killed and two injured. In another room, they did something different, with 19 present, two killed and three wounded. In a room that was barricaded, there were 12 people, with none injured or killed.

Panezott said the A.L.I.C.E. system isn’t just for schools. They held a dry run last week at city hall with city officials and employees. They trained about 20 people, explaining the process and using ping pong balls to simulate bullets. During the first round, every person in the room got hit. During the second round, after the training was explained and sunk in, only one person was hit.

If something happens, Davis said they may not stop casualties from occurring, but they may reduce the number of casualties.

He added the biggest con out there is people saying they’re training kids to bring books to a gunfight. He said what they’re actually doing is “giving them options to survive.”

He paraphrased a quote from Theodore Roosevelt, saying in any moment of decision, the best thing anyone can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing and the worst thing anybody can do is to do nothing.

“Every plan is going to have it’s detractors and the other option is to do nothing and that’s not an option for us,” Bratten said.

When asked if the district has considered arming teachers with guns, he indicated that’s not an idea the board feels comfortable with doing. There’s never been a vote on it, but it’s been talked about during work sessions and the feelings weren’t strong enough to put it up for a vote, he said.

With A.L.I.C.E., the safety of the students and staff members is the only concern.