A.L.I.C.E. training prepares Fairmont staff to respond to an active shooter


Photo: Sam Barton

Kettering Police Officer Carla Sacher offers security advice to the teachers of West Unit during the A.L.I.C.E. training session on Aug. 30, 2013.

As school security becomes a priority in districts around the country, locked doors, high fences and security cameras are being added to ensure the safety of America’s students. However, physical upgrades aren’t the only thing protecting children in classrooms, and teachers nationwide are receiving special A.L.I.C.E. training to learn the best ways to keep children safe in life-or-death situations.

These training techniques found their way to Fairmont High School on Aug. 30, 2013, when teachers learned about A.L.I.C.E. protocol, discussed scenarios, and participated in active shooter drills in the school.

A.L.I.C.E. stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. It’s a procedure that is replacing the lockdown policies previously in place at most schools. Those lockdown policies mandated that teachers follow a set procedure for locking themselves and students into classrooms during a threat to school safety.

People began to reconsider the lockdown procedure, however, after events like the Sandy Hook shootings. “In the past, across this country, the procedure for trouble in a school building was to lock down,” said Kettering City Schools Superintendent Jim Schoenlein. “That means turn the lights out, lock the doors, and hide in the corner.”

The A.L.I.C.E. program, however, provides teachers with a variety of safety options and the power to choose the option that best caters to their individual situation. While the lockdown procedure is still a noteworthy tool of the A.L.I.C.E. arsenal, teachers now have other options, such as hiding, evacuating, barricading the doors, throwing books at the shooter, and even running around in circles to disorient the shooter.

“Before, in the event of an active shooter in the building, the district made the decision,” said Schoenlein. “Now we are going to say to teachers, ‘You make a call for what is best in the situation.’”

Under the old plan, students and teachers sort of sat there and waited to get shot. Under the new plan, students and teachers will do what they can to counter what the killer wants to do: shoot them.”

— Superintendent Jim Schoenlein

During Fairmont’s A.L.I.C.E. training, Kettering Police officers fired blanks in various locations around the school while teachers were in their classrooms. (Classes were not in session.) Shots were fired on three different occasions, first in South Unit, then in the connector between East and Central units, and finally in West Unit. The shots echoed through the nearly empty school as teachers pondered what actions they might take if the situation were real.

“The first time they shot was further away from my room, and it was very difficult to hear anything,” said John Butchko, who teaches U.S. History in East Unit. “As it got closer, the sound was much clearer.”

In addition to the gunshots, teachers heard announcements over the PA system that informed them where the shots were fired, where the shooter was last seen, and in what direction he was moving. After each scenario, teachers gathered in each unit to discuss their reactions, share ideas and ask questions. Administrators and Kettering Police officers attempted to answer questions and make suggestions.

Butchko was one teacher who had a question for officers and administrators. “I asked for their recommendation about what we should do with injured people,” said Butchko. “Their response was that it is basically up to the individual to make that decision.”

The police officers offered some safety measures that could be utilized by teachers. One suggestion was for teachers to keep “Go Buckets” in their classrooms. These buckets would hold a variety of supplies to be used for medical and barricade purposes in the event of an active shooter.

The mood of the staff reflected the gravity of the life-and-death topics being discussed. Some teachers appeared tense, some even a bit sad. Many questions didn’t have easy answers, but teachers seemed to feel the discussions were beneficial. “The training was very worthwhile,” said Butchko.

Some parts of the A.L.I.C.E. training are controversial, however, because it can involve students directly confronting an active shooter. Once a shooter enters a classroom, A.L.I.C.E. options include throwing things at the shooter, attacking him, and buzzing like bees: running around like crazy to cause disorientation.

Despite the controversy, Kettering administrators stand by the training. “All mothers would like to believe that the school has strategies to save their kids under any circumstance,” said Schoenlein. “Mothers would like to believe that Kettering City Schools has a plan to make sure that their children are as safe as they can be – that they have a chance of living through any circumstance, including an active shooter entering their child’s classroom.”

Schoenlein continued with his blunt assessment. “Under the old plan, students and teachers sort of sat there and waited to get shot,” said Schoenlein. “Under the new plan, students and teachers will do what they can to counter what the killer wants to do: shoot them.”

Hank Jackoby, East Unit Principal at Fairmont High School, was in charge of coordinating the A.L.I.C.E. training for Fairmont’s teachers, and he also endorsed the new methods.

“It’s a good change because it allows teachers and students to make the decisions that are going to be best for them in their location in the building and their situation,” said Jackoby. “Of all of these tragedies that have happened, one of the few positives was that the survivors took certain actions to survive, and all of those things are taught in A.L.I.C.E. training.”