November 26, 2014
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In case of shooter, teachers told to fight back
Cranston first in state for new school safety protocols
Herald photo by Jen Cowart
PARTNERING FOR SAFETY: Captain Steven Antonucci and Officer James Jennings spoke at length to those gathered at the CEAB meeting on Monday night about the new ALICE school safety measures being rolled out in Cranston.

At the November Cranston Education Advisory Board (CEAB) meeting Monday night, representatives of the Cranston School Department, in conjunction with representatives from the Cranston Police Department, informed the parents about a new school safety initiative currently being rolled out across the city, the first of its kind in the state.

Assistant Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse introduced Captain Steven Antonucci and Officer James Jennings as the liaisons from the Cranston Police Department who have been helping to implement the new school safety and security training called ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Educate).

"These two gentlemen have been instrumental in our efforts to improve school safety in Cranston. With their help, we have been implementing ALICE trainings in all of our elementary schools and are moving on to the middle and high schools," Nota-Masse said.

Captain Antonucci introduced Officer Jennings, stating that the ALICE training was based on much research and study by law enforcement officials following school shooting incidences and is designed to provide different, more efficient survival options during an intruder incident.

"This training provides a different perspective for people who have been trained in a different way. It gives teachers, children and administrators options for protecting themselves during an intruder incident," Antonucci said.

Both Nota-Masse and Antonucci agreed that the new partnership between the school and police departments has provided each with a unique perspective into the others way of thinking and into the others professional responsibilities.

"Police do not think the way teachers think and teachers do not think the way police think. This has allowed both of them to come together, and it's been a unique experience," Nota-Masse said.

According to Antonucci, ALICE training has come to Cranston as a result of the school shooting tragedy in Newtown, Conn., where more than 20 fatalities occurred last December. The training was developed in Pennsylvania. Officer Jennings, who has been with the Cranston department for 16 years, learned of it and trained himself.

"Newtown put things into perspective for us," said Jennings. "Lockdown isn't enough. Innocent teachers and staff are dying trying to protect our children. Our children are dying. It is the intent of these people to murder and kill our children. If you're hiding in the corner with one lock on a door, it isn't enough."

Jennings went into great detail about the training as he showed a PowerPoint presentation to the group.

"ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. Lockdown is a 'Hide and Hope' tactic," he said. "We want our people, especially our children, to live and hiding in a corner or under a desk just didn't make sense. We know that nothing is going to be the be-all-end-all, but we're working with the school department doing physical building assessments and holding open and honest dialogue to figure out what is best for our children."

Jennings cited statistics showing that intruder events such as the 1999 Columbine and 2012 Newtown school shootings are often half over by the time the police officers and other first responders arrive on the scene.

"We want to be there, but we can't get there quick enough. With ALICE training, we want you to be thinking, what are you doing in that other half? Don't go hide in a corner," Jennings said.

He noted that in other crisis training situations such as teaching kids about Stranger Danger or in Rape Intervention training, people are taught to run, yell, kick, scream and get away, yet in school intruder or shooter situations, people are taught to be easy targets, staying quietly in one spot, oftentimes with nothing between them and the shooter.

"Ten to 12 minutes is the national average for an active aggressor and there's at least a five- to six-minute response time for first responders to get to the scene. People need to know that in that five- to six-minute response time, they have options, they can distract or disorient the intruder or they can fight and escape; in the moment, making a decision might save their lives or the lives of those they are trying to protect," Jennings said.

He discussed the lessons learned from the 1999 Columbine shooting where both teachers and students were shot. He played the six-minute clip of the 911 call from the teacher in the library, noting that the students were trained to hide under the tables in the library while the desks could have instead been used to barricade the doors.

"They stayed in the room, under the desks because that's what they were told to do. There was an exit nearby but they stayed," Jennings said. "Thirteen years later at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a secure building, 26 people were killed, two were injured. The students were hiding in their spots, easy targets with easy access," he said.

Jennings talked about subtle changes in reaction time and decision making during a crisis that ALICE training encourages, which may save lives.

"Teachers need to be told it's OK to break windows. People need to know it's OK to jump out a second floor window. You might break a leg, but if it's that or be shot, I'd choose a broken leg," he said. "ALICE training isn't linear. You don't have to do it in order. If you need to alert people that there's a shooter in the building and then evacuate your students, you do and you inform as soon as you can, call 911 on your cell as you're evacuating. ALICE allows for decisions that empower the person in charge to make the best decision possible. It gives them more options than hiding under a table."

He talked about classrooms needing to be ready, prepared for an incident with supplies on hand, even though one hopes that the supplies might never be needed.

"You need to be a harder target. One lock on one door isn't enough. You need to make it harder for the intruder to get in. Have supplies like a piece of wood, a rope, even coat hangers and belts are better than nothing, anything in the room to help diminish their time to kill you," he said. "You need to have a plan, a mindset for what you'd do if an incident would occur. We discuss having Go Buckets in the classroom closets with supplies like a roll of toilet paper, a tarp, water, nut-free snacks. You may be stuck in that room for hours before the room is cleared."

Jennings talked about the need for evacuation plans to be in place, along with reunification points being established.

"These things are school-specific. You need to look at the geography around the buildings. People need to know to stay away from things that might be suspicious like trash cans, recycle bins, cars, random backpacks, anything that could be bombs," he said.

He addressed the issue of people being afraid to counter an attacker during an incident.

"When faced with danger, you must do something. The worst thing you can do is nothing. It's much harder to hit a moving target than a stationary, non-moving target," he said. "There was a 92 percent hit rate in the Newtown incident. That means that only eight out of 100 bullets didn't hit someone. That's because everyone was locked down, in their rooms, not moving. We need to think, 'What can we do better?'"

He reminded the audience that those who confront an intruder can survive.

"You may get injured, but it doesn't mean you'll die. You have to change your mindset," he said.

Both Nota-Masse and the officers explained that the roll-out of ALICE to the community is a gradual one.

"This is being done in a top-down manner. We are being thoughtful as to how we're doing this. We're training all of the adults first and then we're taking a look at the curriculum that is available and figuring out what is appropriate for our students; what is age-appropriate and even what is appropriate for students with specific needs. This is not a cookie-cutter roll-out," she said. "All of our buildings are laid out differently. They're all in different areas geographically. Each building has had tailored trainings based on their layout and location."

The officers and Nota-Masse discussed changes that can be made immediately, such as making the codes for emergencies universal and "in plain English" to make it easier for substitute teachers or those who are in the building doing things like internships and community service to better know what exactly is going on, rather than having to figure out what an unusual code means. Nota-Masse also discussed the fine line between making the schools into a building similar to an adult correctional facility versus keeping it as a welcoming school atmosphere.

"We need to balance how to make the buildings warm and accessible with how to protect our kids," she said.

Jennings and Antonucci agreed that the partnership between the schools and the police department are working to come up with a "common sense and fiscally sound approach" to rolling out the new ALICE training in the schools and to the school community. They emphasized the fact that they will not just be dropping this training on the community and leaving.

"We will come back, we will go to every room, we will help you with whatever you need," Jennings said.

Nota-Masse reminded the group of the common thread that connected everyone there.

"Many of these officers have children in our schools. I have a student in our schools. We all want our children to be safe. These are homegrown people who care. We're not just buying a package curriculum and using an out-of-state consultant who's going to leave. We're all invested in this, we all want our children and your children to be safe," she said.

CEAB President Ed Angilly suggested a future CEAB meeting date for a repeat presentation of the ALICE training, and both Nota-Masse and the two officers agreed that the additional opportunity for more parents to be informed on this initiative would be much appreciated. A future CEAB date will be set. Nota-Masse encouraged parents with questions, concerns or feedback to contact her by e-mail at jnota@cpsed.net.

The next CEAB meeting will be held at Cranston High School East in the media center on Dec. 2.


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