Jesse Duckworth, assistant principal at Bowsher High School, takes the role of shooter in an exercise at Woodward High School on Thursday. Instead of locking rooms and hiding, school staff learn to react to an intrusion based on presented information. Eventually students will receive training.
Things sounded normal in the Woodward High School art classroom, with jokes and idle banter mixed into plans for the rest of the day. Then a frantic message came over a radio.
There’s an intruder, and he means harm, the training scenario prompts. He’s got a gun. He’s in the building. He’s close, and coming their way.
“Alice, Alice, Alice,” came a radio call.
Everyone in the room sprang into attack poses, some with objects in their hands to fling at any intruders in their room, others with carts to roll in his way, and others ready to fight hand to hand. Air-horn warning blasts came closer and closer.
The intruder burst into the room, gun in hand, ready to shoot. Immediately, carts were pushed in front of him and he was pelted from every direction. Just when he was about to be taken to the ground, the battle abruptly ended.
“Safety, safety, safety,” Sgt. Tony Castillo of the Oregon Police Department yelled, and everyone stopped.
Toledo Public School staff members took off their protective masks, worn to block any eye injuries from the acting intruder’s pellet gun, and prepared to debrief on their training session. An administrator joked with another that he thought he had hit the intruder — another TPS staff member playing the part — in the throat with a tennis ball.
That frantic radio call wasn’t for someone named Alice to come to the rescue, but for staff to implement the threat response method called ALICE, or Alert Lockdown Inform Counter Evacuate. Created by Texas-based Response Options, ALICE is training for responses in active shooter and violent intruder events.
Instead of simply locking rooms and hiding, school staff train to react based on presented information. If there’s a clear, safe route out of the building, why not run? If the intruder is in the room, and there’s no escape, why not fight?
About 60 TPS building-level administrators took part in the Thursday training session, and more are scheduled to take the training later this year, a district spokesman said. Staff sat through presentations, did small group sessions, and then practiced the live scenarios.
Brian Murphy, TPS assistant superintendent, said district leaders reviewed safety procedures after recent mass shooting incidents, including the one at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Conn.
“With all the incidents that were going on, we started having conversations,” Mr. Murphy said.
Sergeant Castillo, who has led ALICE training at other schools, said that many of its concepts have been used in active shooter situations without people being trained. The bystander who tackles a shooter. The teacher who drags an injured student to safety or distracts an intruder.
School staff go through two hours of training, then can fit a lesson for students into a class period, Sergeant Castillo said.
Some of the ALICE training might not be completely feasible with younger grades. It can be difficult to explain to first-graders how to diagnose a scary situation quickly and react appropriately. Instead, in many cases its best to train them to do what their teacher tells them.
“We leave it up to teachers to decide how much [students] can do,” Sergeant Castillo said.