Smithfield welcomes 'ALICE'

Smithfield welcomes 'ALICE'

Smithfield elementary school teachers gathered at the high school for "armed intruder" training on Monday. Officers from the Smithfield Police Department conducted training sessions for the teachers on how to respond in the event of an armed person in their schools. Jessica Deremer, from Gallagher School, places a desk against the classroom door during a barricading exercise. (Valley Breeze & Observer photos by David Wuerth)
Safety training offers teachers choices in case of intruders

SMITHFIELD - Smithfield police were at the high school Monday, directing teachers to climb out windows and shield themselves with desks.

The procedures were part of a new training program to replace traditional lockdown strategies, and equip school staff with options to protect themselves and students in the case of an armed invasion.

After Monday's session, 150 Smithfield teachers and staff now have the ability to do more than wait and hide for first responders to arrive on the scene.

ALICE, which stands for "Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate," is a way for individuals "in active, threatening situations to react and/or defend themselves," said Detective Sgt. Gregg Catlow, who is a certified instructor of ALICE.

He added that ALICE will provide "options that adults will have in the event of unsafe situations" and allow people "to rely on their instincts."

Elementary school teachers and staff received an instructional presentation on Monday, while middle and high school teachers and staff had the opportunity for hands-on, practical exercises, led by Catlow.

Catlow hosted the training along with Capt. Kenneth Brown Jr. of the Smithfield Police Department, and Renee Palazzo, assistant principal of Smithfield High School.

"I think it was a total success," said Brown, who also serves as the incident commander for the school system. "Teachers and staff got to see the practical side (of the training) and began to see the urgency (of these types of situations)."

ALICE is a nationally-recognized training program with headquarters in Ohio. According to its website, the ALICE Training Institute offers "proactive risk management" tips and information to individuals, which can "increase chances of survival during an armed intruder event."

In light of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., many school systems have been looking to increase security. In a report from CNN earlier this summer, the U.S. has seen approximately 15 incidents similar to Sandy Hook since December 2012.

According to Brown, "Traditionally the goal was to make (teachers and students) invisible by asking them to hide," turn off the lights, and lock their classroom doors.

But traditional lockdown methods are no longer enough to keep faculty, staff, and students safe in the case of an armed intruder.

The ALICE Training Institute website says that individuals can't rely on "law enforcement alone." Brown noted that based on a past incident, it took police two minutes and 41 seconds to arrive at the high school.

"It could be quicker if someone were out driving around," he said, adding that the national average of deployment from a police department to a school is three to five minutes.

That might not seem like a long amount of time, but in the case of an armed intruder, every second counts.

ALICE training will give Smithfield faculty and staff the knowledge and ability to make the most of the time before police arrive.

ALICE does not train or teach faculty, staff, and students how to fight. Instead, it offers individuals options to keep themselves and others safe in the case of an intrusion, be that to lock down, counter, or evacuate.

Countering does not mean pro-actively fighting off an intruder, said Palazzo, who also serves as the emergency operation coordinator for the school district. It can be a distraction that takes the form of yelling or throwing objects at an intruder while students and staff escape.

"We want teachers (and staff) to be aware," said Palazzo. "We want them to use their professional judgment. (ALICE) gives them the ability to leave the building if they're in a position to leave."

For example, if an armed intruder is in the left side of one building, people in the right side should be able to evacuate and reach a place of safety. In a traditional lockdown, everyone remains trapped in the building, waiting and worrying, when they could be escaping.

In the case of an evacuation, Palazzo and Brown want to emphasize that there is a "comprehensive evacuation plan" in place, which will ensure accountability for all students and staff.

The Smithfield school district has a very comprehensive security plan, added Palazzo. It's an ongoing goal to "ensure student and adult safety" in the schools, and the recent ALICE training is just "one element" in the plan.

Now that faculty and staff have received at least one aspect of ALICE training, the next step is to reach out to parents and students.

"There is a plan in progress," Palazzo said. Teachers may speak with students and say, "This is what we do" in the case of an intrusion.

Brown added, "We have to get the kids on board next, so we have to sell it to the parents."

Monday's ALICE training comes after a different training session held on Aug. 15 for school administrators. That program, run by Smithfield Fire Chief Robert Seltzer, focused on the Incident Command System (ICS), which Brown said is the structure that is in place in the event of an emergency at any of the schools. He said that it's a collaboration between the fire and police departments and the school system.

Brown called ICS a "hierarchy of instinct management," and described it as a system of "who answers to whom."

Chief Seltzer said that the recent ICS training, which was at an introduction level, "opened some administrators" eyes to what they should be doing and thinking about during an emergency at their school.

"It also took away some of the 'mystery' about what the Incident Command System is and how it is used in the school environment," he continued.

The training helped explain to administrators what they should expect from fire and police, and what those officials expect from the school administration, Brown said.

At a meeting with Catlow, Brown, and Palazzo last Friday, Assistant Superintendent Bridget Morisseau called the Smithfield Police and Fire Departments "great partners" to the school system.

"Academics don't matter if the kids aren't safe," she said.

For more information about ALICE, visit alicetraining.com .

Cindy Ripley, left, and Amy Kaighan, both teachers at Gallagher School, escape through a window during the training session.
Using an approach that is no longer recommended, teachers huddle together in a classroom to experience the fallacy of that technique.