GARDINER — School officials here are embracing a new active response plan that is billed as a more-proactive approach than traditional lockdowns and is attracting the attention of many central Maine schools.

The new program is dubbed ALICE — short for “alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate.”

Officials in Gardiner are looking to implement the program with students soon, while students and faculty at Erskine Academy in South China have already enacted the program.

Erskine Headmaster Michael McQuarrie said the program has made students more “secure and confident.”

The program was developed by Greg Crane, founder of the ALICE Training Institute and a former law enforcement officer, after the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado. The program is said to provide a more-dynamic environment that gives victims more techniques to stay safe and, ultimately, a better chance to stay alive.

Superintendent Patricia Hopkins of Maine School Administrative District 11 said the district’s entire faculty is trained in the program, including Gardiner Area High School Principal Chad Kempton, who Wednesday led an informational session with Gardiner Police Department at Gardiner Area High School that drew about 100 people.

Kempton said a decision about when students are trained in ALICE will be made at a Thursday administrative meeting.

Kempton said it is important for Gardiner Area High School’s 640 students and 80 staff members to have this training because it can be used in any environment. He said the program focuses on situational awareness and acting quickly during dangerous situations.

“It’s bigger than the school,” Kempton said. “This is for all organization out there that have employees and potential for (an) active shooter. As we have all seen, it’s happening in all areas.”

Kempton was one of a small group from Gardiner who sat in on a session at Erskine Academy before deciding to use the program at their schools. McQuarrie said he worked with Maine State Police Lt. Aaron Hayden, a parent of a child at Erskine, to review the school’s emergency plan.

Hayden said he recommended a number of options to revamp the plan, but Erskine officials decided to purchase the ALICE program. McQuarrie said an administrator was trained in the program and that administrator subsequently trained the entire Erskine staff.

McQuarrie said the program’s acronym is not necesarilly sequential steps.

“In a potential mass shooting, it gives our (staff) members more of a repertoire of response,” he said. “Being able to counter an intruder that may enter the classroom, barricading (a classroom door) makes good sense, but we also work with our students to understand if security has been breached, that you have other behaviors.”

Hayden said the program is similar to the “Run, Fight, Hide” model distributed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Gardiner Police Chief Jim Toman attended Wednesday’s session at the high school. He said Friday the department offers ALICE training at other institutions, including businesses and churches.

Toman said the department decided to start providing ALICE training a year ago in an effort to keep Gardiner residents safe wherever they are, especially in a climate where mass shootings are becoming more common.

State Trooper Jason Wing, also an ALICE instructor, said the traditional lockdown was developed for drive-by shootings in Los Angeles, making it mostly impractical for an active shooter inside of the school.

He said “enhanced lockdowns” are a part of ALICE, but they include barricading the door, spreading out amongst the room and wielding items to use against an intruder, like pencils or a fire extinguisher.

McQuarrie said training has online and physical lessons. The online training reviewed some techniques used in previous school shootings, like the traditional school lockdown. Drills traditionally include turning the lights off, staying away from the windows and doors and being quiet. Hopkins, the school superintendent in MSAD 11, said the approach made a room of students “an easy target” for potential shooters.

“We were taught to teach students to have a passive response,” she said. “As a result, the ALICE system is a way to prepare. We take a bit more control of the situation.”

McQuarrie said the physical training aimed to add more behaviors to the student’s repertoire, including throwing objects and making loud noises to distract a shooter or safely swarming an intruder if necessary. McQuarrie said the training and drilling will be repeated in “mid-to-late October.”

Two Erskine students told the Kennebec Journal this week they feel safer after the training. Senior Ricky Winn said the program felt more proactive than the lockdown procedure they were previously taught, and Lucy Allen, also a senior, said the physical drill was fun and it gave her more confidence to “attack” a potentially dangerous situation.

“I was pretty surprised,” Winn said. “You can do more for yourself than we were taught before, where you just hide in the corner of the room and lock the door.”

“It was kind of just like a fun activity, but at the same time it was obviously very serious,” Allen said. “It gave us more confidence because we could really see what we had to do.”

Toman said the ALICE program is “an enhanced way of thing” focused on increasing the chances of survival during a mass shooter event. He said first responders in Gardiner would need probably five minutes to get to a location and eliminate a threat.

“It’s building upon your basic instincts,” he said.

Hopkins said the program, which allows the victims of an aggressive intruder to take more control of the situation, applies to every location where there is potential for a shooting.

“We know there are incidents that happen in Walmart or in (movie) theaters,” she said. “This is a response that applies anywhere in our lives.”

Wing said there has been no incident in Maine thwarted by ALICE-trained groups, but he has heard anecdotally ALICE training has mitigated events in the nation’s Midwest.

Superintendents from Winthrop and Readfield-area school districts told the Kennebec Journal this week they were in early stages of implementing the program.

Maranacook Area Schools Superintendent Jay Charette said some administrators and teachers have attended training for ALICE, but the school has not finalized their plans to use ALICE yet. Charette said the program would help standardize protocols for all of the district’s schools, which currently use lockdowns and “Run, Hide, Fight” procedures.

Superintendent Cornelia Brown of the Winthrop Public Schools said the district is in the process of training its staff and preparing materials to teach students.

Regional School Unit 2 Superintendent Cheri Towle said some employees in her district have been trained in ALICE, and the district will be looking to add the program to safety plans already in place.

Department of Education spokesperson Kelli Deveaux did not return requests for comment on this story.

For more information on the ALICE Training Institute, see alicetraining.com.


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