BEMIDJI -- Bemidji-area educators have implemented a new way to react to an “active shooter” at or near a school.
Rather than a more familiar lockdown -- where students and teachers hunker in a darkened and locked classroom until help arrives -- “ALICE” training presents a menu of reactions: alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate.
A shooter could be in one wing of a building, for instance, and ALICE training gives students and staff in another wing the option to evacuate from the building rather than stay in their classrooms. Rooms can still go into a lockdown, though.
“Instead of going into a lockdown and using maybe some code words, we would have put that empowerment into the adults and students in the building to make the best decisions they can in the face of a possible threat,” Ranae Seykora, an assistant principal at Bemidji High School, told the Bemidji Area Schools board on Dec. 19.
Staff and students are also told that they could try and “counter” a potential shooter by distracting them or throwing whatever is close at hand. Seykora stressed that the training doesn’t ask this of elementary students.
“Our older kids, of course, at the high school level, or adults, would be able to have some countering measures as far as moving around, providing distraction, maybe throwing objects at whoever is committing this act of violence,” she added.
Bemidji High School Principal Brian Stefanich also showed school board members a “safety bucket” with a tarp for scaling over a broken window, toilet paper, a first aid kit, duct tape, a bungee cord for barricading doors, and garbage bags. Every high school classroom has one.
Stefanich also recounted the training he underwent:
“The first scenario was basically a traditional lockdown, where we stay in the classroom, we go to one corner, we're all quiet, and they have an active shooter that comes in with their guns and whatever, and basically you're sitting ducks and you feel helpless,” he told the board. “When you go through the next scenario, where you start barricading the door or going out the window. Just the feeling you have, as a human being in that room, that you have options and you can make a difference...you get empowered, and you actually feel good about yourself, that you have options.”
Some district staff have also started using an app called “CrisisGo” that they can use to coordinate with each other and public safety personnel during an emergency. Seykora said staff used it after a car accident in front of the high school, for instance. The app’s website also indicates it can be used to report bullying incidents.
Key staff members already have radios and can use their room phones to access schools’ public address systems, which can also help coordinate a response.
The Center for Disease Control produced a fact sheet this year that characterizes school-associated violent deaths as “rare,” and counts 31 homicides of school-age youth ages 5-18 in the 2012-2013 school year. The center also conducted a study that concluded that most school-associated violent deaths occur immediately before or after the school day and during lunch; violent deaths are more likely to occur at the start of each semester; and that nearly 50 percent of homicide perpetrators gave some type of warning signal beforehand, like a threat or a note.
In 2005, a Red Lake High School student killed a total of nine people, seven at the high school, before killing himself, and staff there were among the region’s first to adopt ALICE training.
Dozens of Red Lake School District staff have the training, but Superintendent Anne Lundquist said staff there didn’t need to use it when an unspecific threat against a school in Northern Minnesota caused K-12 buildings across the state to go into varying degrees of lockdown in mid-November.
Minutes after Red Lake police told school district staff about the threat, however, school district staff went into a “restricted movement lockdown.” She told the Pioneer then that staff were monitoring people entering and leaving the building, recess was held indoors, and after-school activities were cancelled. Staff at Red Lake, Lundquist explained Wednesday, decided the threat wasn’t “proximal” or “prevalent” enough to active the ALICE system.
Stefanich said BHS staff didn’t need to use their ALICE training that day, either, but did use the Crisis Go app to stay in the loop.
Seykora said Bemidji Area Schools leaders hope to familiarize every student there with the ALICE system by the end of this school year.