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Preparing for the worst

Program gives the “OK” to react against school intruders

The deafening sound of gunfire resounded through the hallways of Riverside Local Schools Friday morning, causing stomachs to churn among staff members and others who were participating in a drill in preparation for a situation they hopefully will never encounter.

Participants were engaged in an active shooter training session called ALiCE, standing for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evade, offered through the Hardin County Sheriff’s Office to offer practical tips on how to face down such an intruder situation.

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Sgt. Holbrook attempts to open a door that participants barricaded shut based on tips offered through the training session

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Riverside teacher Kelly Kauffman uses a fabric strap to keep a door shut while Sgt. Holbrook attempts to make entry into the classroom.

All school staff members at Riverside attended the seminar, including teachers, custodians, cafeteria workers and bus drivers. Also in attendance were personnel from Jackson Center Schools, the DeGraff Police Department, DeGraff Fire Department, Shelby County Sheriff’s Office and several community members.

Staff members at Indian Lake Local Schools also participated in the session at their school Friday afternoon.

During two different simulations, Hardin County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Scott Holbrook roamed the halls of Riverside Schools carrying with him two weapons, the first being a revolver containing blank rounds. He shot off the blank rounds to give participants a feel for how gunfire reverberates in an enclosed environment like a school.

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ABOVE: Sgt. Scott Holbrook of the Hardin County Sheriff’s Office walks through gun powder that hung in the air Friday in a hallway at Riverside Local Schools during active shooter training offered for staff and community members. He had just fired blank rounds from a revolver, which he carries in on one of his hands. In his other hand, Sgt. Holbrook carries a pellet gun that also was used for the active shooter simulation. FRONT PAGE PHOTO: Sgt. Scott Holbrook of the Hardin County Sheriff’s Office speaks at Riverside Local Schools Friday during the school’s teacher in-service day for ALiCE training, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evade. (EXAMINER PHOTOS | MANDY LOEHR)

His second weapon was an airsoft pellet gun, and participants who couldn’t escape this “intruder” faced the possibility of being hit by the pellets.

While the sergeant acted in similar ways in the two demonstrations, participants engaged in very different behaviors during the second session compared to the first one after being armed with tips for combating an active shooter.

In daily life, we’re taught not to fight and to always be kind to other people, Sgt. Holbrook said. But when someone comes into a school building or other public place meaning to do harm, using any available means to fight off the attacker could be the difference between life and death.  

“Most of the concepts of ALiCE are simple; it just takes someone to give them the ‘OK’ to act in manners that could help them live through a violent attack,” the presenter explained.

“One of the main things I stress is the implementation of the ALiCE program does not mean that no person will ever get hurt, it means that everyone’s survivability chances increase and it makes the goals of the attackers harder to attain.”

Sgt. Holbrook also explained that ALiCE is much different than the passive methods that previously had been taught in schools — to simply go into lockdown mode and then sit and wait for an attacker to enter a classroom.

Instead, the ALiCE program requires a more active response from school personnel and breaks down instructions for how to act and react to this kind of situation.

The first step “alert” relates to contacting law enforcement or people outside of the school to relay the information about the intruder. Sgt. Holbrook noted that any teacher or person in the school building has the authority to call 911 when encountering signs of trouble.

Next, staff members are still instructed to “lock down” classroom doors and the sergeant demonstrated various ways to physically barricade doorways.

“Inform” is the third step and involves school officials giving information over a school’s announcement system about where the perpetrator is heading and what he is doing in the building.

As for the “counter” portion of ALiCE, participants also were taught that it is OK to attack or distract the shooter by using any kind of weapon available in the classroom, from throwing a pair of scissors, books or desks at them.

“We have to think ahead of time that there is nothing that is going too far to save your life or the life of your kids,” Sgt. Holbrook said.

“Evade” or escape is the final step, and the presenter related that school staff members and students should try to get out of the school building whenever possible to avoid the shooter. The escape route could involve breaking out windows or running outside through usual exit doors.

After learning all of the ALiCE concepts, participants finished their active shooter simulation feeling much better prepared, and many of the attendees were able to either escape the school building or barricade their classroom doors.

“It was great to go from feeling like you were a sitting duck and couldn’t do anything to actually feeling like you have a plan of action,” said Marie Baughman, third- and fourth-grade special education teacher.

“My first instinct is to fight when I’m faced with a situation like that and now I feel like we have plan to know how to channel my adrenaline.”

Other participants Dawn Core, third-grade teacher, and Debbie Hughes, Family-School Partnership chairwoman, echoed similar statements.

“It’s a thing that’s really good to know. You feel empowered,” Ms. Core said. “It helps you to think through the situation before it happens.”

“We usually have these rules and protocol that we have to follow, like normally we’re not supposed to be breaking windows or throwing scissors at people,” Ms. Hughes said. “But when lives are at stake, now we have this advice that we can follow. It really gives us the freedom to act.”

The ALiCE program originated in Texas, and the Hardin County deputy originally became aware of the program several years ago when his wife went through the training as a teacher at Lima Senior High School.

After receiving approval from his sheriff, Sgt. Holbrook received training through one of the ALiCE originators, Greg Crane, also a former Texas SWAT operator.

Since then, Sgt. Holbrook has conducted ALiCE sessions in Hardin County schools and started working with Logan County schools during the fall.

Sgt. Holbrook said the concepts taught through ALiCE are also applicable to active shooter situations encountered at work places, churches, malls and other public places.

“One of the results is it empowers individuals to understand that they can take an active role in their own survival. They do not have to sit and behave like helpless sheep.”

Ms. Baughman said she would recommend the program for any other area school personnel.

“This is wonderful training. Every school needs to do it.”

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