The Pryor Times

September 14, 2013

Go ask A.L.I.C.E.

Cydney Baron
Staff Reporter

PRYOR, OK — State mandates have evolved and are changing the way teachers respond to violent intruders in schools.

Pryor Police Department's School Resource Officer Jeremy Cantrell is making the rounds through Pryor Public Schools teaching a new curriculum called A.L.I.C.E

A.L.I.C.E. stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate and is changing the face of emergency response.

“A.L.I.C.E. is intruder-specific. This training is meant to arm you with decision-making skills,” said Cantrell. “In these situations, making a good decision could save a life.”

A group of approximately 50 teachers gathered in Roosevelt Elementary School's library and reviewed news and 911 footage of previous school shootings. Cantrell talked about the shootings in Columbine, Colo., Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

“This training is intense but it's not meant to scare you. It's just to give you the skill set, God forbid you ever need it,” said Cantrell.

Cantrell pointed out that school shootings are nothing new and there are skills to be learned from past incidents. He said the response plan doesn't have to be complicated, so long as there's a plan.

“Current training is all about lockdowns and how to keep people out,” said Cantrell. “It doesn't tell teachers what to do when the intruder gets in.”

Cantrell said that hiding under a desk is not a recipe for success and that preparation is key.

“We practice drills for other emergencies. And since the early 1960s when we started doing school fire drills, one student has been killed in a school fire. This can be just as effective,” sad Cantrell.

A.L.I.C.E. is certified through the Department of Homeland Security and plays on the three natural reactions to crisis: fight, flight, freeze (counter, evacuate, lockdown).

He said teachers should start by knowing their classroom; noting all exits, knowing if windows open or if they can break through them and  knowing the location of objects that can be used in self defense.

“In an emergency, do you think you can lock your classroom door in time? No. Doors should be locked at all times,” said Cantrell.

He said to focus on sensory input, listening for screaming, shots fired and location-specific sounds to help identify the location of the shooter in the building.

Part of the response plan, Cantrell said, is knowing when to stay in a secure, safe place and when to run.

Detective Kevin Lanham of the Pryor Police Department assisted Cantrell in the training. Lanham played the part of the gunman. He ran through two different scenarios in which he began shooting in the hallway then entered the library full of teachers to fire more rounds.

“It's largely about giving them a real life frame of reference. Many of these teachers have never heard a gun fired at all, let alone in a classroom. They have no idea what to expect,” said Lanham, who shot blanks from an AK-47 and 12-gauge shotgun.

For the first round, the teachers relied on their pre-A.L.I.C.E. skill set.

Prior to the second round Cantrell gave each of the teachers a tennis ball.

“When a gunman walks into a room he knows he has the most powerful weapon, especially in a school,” said Lanham. “But it is a natural reaction, when someone is throwing things at you, to want to protect your face.”

Lanham repeated the scenario for the second round, and was pelted with tennis balls.

“Do I want you to throw things at a person with a gun? Yep. Natural reaction is going to cause him to duck, flinch and cover his face. In these seconds you are giving yourself more time, even split seconds make a difference,” said Cantrell, who pointed out that heavier objects in the room, thrown by both teachers and students would be even more effective.

“Don't automatically assume that because you don't have a gun, you lose,” said Lanham.

The teachers said they felt less like sitting ducks during the second round and it was comforting to actually do something.

Cantrell said the shooter wants to be in control of the situation, dictating when the violence starts and ends.

“Disrupt him, stress him, distract him or otherwise throw off their plan,” said Cantrell.

Lanham and Cantrell pointed out that school shooters are not typically highly skilled, which would make it even harder for them to hit a moving target.

“Run! Knock over desk and shelves, throw things, break through windows and climb out,” said Cantrell. “Make yourself a difficult target.

“I don't care how you get out of this building or how long it takes me to find you,” said Cantrell. “It's better than finding you dead 30 minutes later.”

 The worst thing you can do is nothing, he said.

In reviewing footage of past events, teachers were concerned about police response time. The policy in place in previous incidents across the nation required that the police officers on site wait for backup before entering the building.

“They used to wait for all their police buddies to arrive. Now, if we know there is an intruder, we're going in,” said Lanham.

“No Pryor Police Officer is going to wait outside while kids are getting gunned down. We know the risk and we're coming in,” said Cantrell.