PITTSBURGH - In an effort to train teachers and administrators on how to keep themselves and students safe, schools are turning to a program called ALICE.
Target 11 investigator Rick Earle got exclusive access to ALICE, which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate. He went along with teachers, administrators and school security officers as they learned new techniques designed to save lives.
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During a realistic training exercise at Brentwood High School, teachers are shown what to do in the event that a gunman enters their school.
Participants wear masks, safety glasses and long sleeve shirts to protect themselves from air soft pellets that are fired at them during the drill.
Traditionally, teachers were taught to wait for police. But after school shootings at Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook, some districts are changing their approach to one in which teachers and students take action, taught to be proactive instead of reactive.
“The traditional response was be passive and static, and sit by and wait for the police to come help us. What we are seeing is the events are over before the police are able to get there,” said Quaker Valley School Resource Officer Aaron Vanatta, who is also a certified ALICE instructor.
The program teaches schools to give clear alerts to everyone -- informing the entire school what’s going on.
“Attention staff and students. We have gunman by room 312,” Vanatta announced over a two-way radio to start the training exercise.
Earle and Channel 11 photographer Ward Hobbs were in a classroom when the alert went out.
During the first scenario, teachers and administrators waited in several different classrooms as the gunman, played by a police officer armed with two air soft pistols, went from classroom to classroom firing at will.
He struck 14 of the 28 participants.
But when participants were instructed to take action by either barricading the door or distracting the gunman, there were far fewer casualties.
“Right now, they are barricading the door and you can hear the sound of simulated gun fire in the background. They are barricading the door to keep the gunman out,” said Earle.
This time, when the intruder tried to get in, the teachers and staff used belts and extension cords to hold him off.
Three of 28 participants were hit.
“All three of you guys did a great job barricading the door,” said the officer who took on the role of the gunman.
During another scenario, participants were taught to quickly evacuate upon learning that the shooter is at the other end of the building. And in yet another exercise, they attempted to distract the gunman by throwing balls at him.
In a real life situation, instructors advise throwing everyday classroom objects at an intruder.
“It’s not about kids fighting back, but about kids surviving and teachers surviving,” said Woodland Hills Curriculum coordinator Licia Lentz, who went through the intensive two day training session.
At this training session, nearly 30 representatives from schools across the state, including Pittsburgh-area schools such as Woodland Hills, the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh City Charter High School, learned the new strategies for survival.
“You always think this can never happen to us, but you always plan for something you hope never happens,” said City Charter High School Safety Officer Del Dougherty.
In Pennsylvania, 192 school districts currently use Alice. Those districts include Brentwood, Mt. Lebanon, and Seneca Valley.