‘Proactive’ crisis response to replace lockdown drills

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Teachers and administrators will be asked to go beyond lockdown mode and take a more active role in the event a dangerous intruder enters Colchester’s school buildings.

The teaching is part of a school safety protocol taking hold statewide called ALICE, or Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. With the help of Colchester Police Lt. Doug Allen, school administrators will be trained on the model starting this month.

“If you just lock down — protect in place — and do nothing else, the chances of becoming a victim goes up,” Allen said. “We’ve come to the conclusion that we want to take the next step and empower people to be prepared to fight out against the aggressor. It’s a mindset we haven’t had before.”

The Vermont Agency of Education last year urged school districts to update active shooter response plans. The agency identified the ALICE training among three possibilities becoming popular nationwide, including the Department of Homeland Security’s “Run, Hide, Fight” protocol.

The ALICE training institute is a private Ohio-based school security company that develops tactics to improve people’s chances of surviving active shooter situations. The maneuvers can be taught to adults and students, with the message tailored to the age group.

At an ALICE training in Milton last month, Milton student resource officer Cpl. Scott Philbrook explained students should use cell phones and social media to alert peers to an emergency and can try to distract or fight back against an intruder in certain scenarios. Milton’s students will be told to use noise, movement and distraction “only in the event the secure area they are in has been compromised,” he told the Milton Independent, The Sun’s sister paper.

According to Colchester Superintendent Amy Minor, most Chittenden County school districts have chosen the ALICE program, putting neighboring districts and first-responders on the same page.

“We’ve realized that if there was an incident where we needed police response, we would probably have multiple communities responding, and it would be very helpful for the agencies to have a similar set of procedures, guidelines and training,” Minor said.

Colchester will start by training principals and central office administrators. The initial focus will be how the district would set up an incident command center and what would be the chain of command. The training will also cover protocols for an emergency in the building outside of school hours.

Later this school year, Minor hopes to practice a mass evacuation to St. Michael’s College.

“That is probably where we would go,” she said. “We are not ready to do that yet, but I see that as a future need.”

In addition, Minor will set up a school safety committee to meet regularly, including emergency response representatives like the Howard Center, St. Mike’s, Colchester fire departments, Colchester Rescue and the Red Cross. The committee will establish lines of communications and discuss different crisis scenarios and responses.

“The purpose of this committee is really to build relationships with all of the organizations that we will rely on in the chance that we have a major crisis or incident,” Minor said. “We need to get good at communicating in stressful situations so those relationships are strong, so that doesn’t become a variable for us.”