School News - Laetitia Haddad

ALICE Protocol: Providing Control Over Scenarios of Uncertainty

        88, like any number, is arbitrary when taken out of context. 

        88 school shootings have occurred in the DMV since 1970. Across the nation, 22 have occurred in this past year alone. And, beyond the statistics of gun violence, countless communities have been rendered fragile by rounds of ammunition, as well as numerous young lives prematurely punctuated by rampant bullets. 

        Gun control is a hot topic for politicians and everyday Americans alike, and though perspectives differ, one thing is undeniably certain: school shootings are still happening.

        In light of this, it makes sense that schools around the nation are striving to better their defense mechanisms against armed intruders. Recently, our own community has taken steps to enhance our lockdown procedures. 

        “Students now have an options-based response,” Mr. Mallett, Upper School Director,  explains. “They have the ability to make their own decisions based on the information they have.'' Instead of locking doors, closing blinds, and hiding under desks, students and teachers alike are trained to be active in either barricading their classrooms or escaping through a nearby exit. 

        Mr. Mallett recalls that the school “started to talk to the Alexandria Police Department about more active responses, like ALICE, during the 2017-2018 school year.” A few years down the road, ALICE - an acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate - is the lockdown protocol our school adheres to. 

        When comparing ALICE to other emergency procedures, this new system is quite radical. Created in the wake of the 2001 Columbine Shooting, ALICE was the first active shooter response program of its kind, training over 22 million people across the US to become competent in crisis situations. This competency, co-founders Greg and Lisa Crane argue, occurs when individuals make their own decisions based on the scenarios they face. 

        It seems that students benefit from having control over their crisis reactions. Having participated in a few ALICE drills last year, Sophomore Morgan Lewis remarks that she feels, “like it’s an effective way to protect us, and it’s good to have that kind of training… coming from a public school, we would just sit in the corner of the room and lock the door, which I didn’t think was effective.”

        Of course, the shift away from passive lockdown drills has an effect on the mentalities of those involved.         In the name of prevention, ALICE training calls for the community to lean into the discomfort a realistic scenario can pose. Morgan finds this to be effective, explaining that, “ALICE training gives you the types of situations that show you: if this was a real situation, you would barricade the door and locate your exits.”

        Mentally preparing for a crisis situation in which an active shooter is present is another aspect of ALICE training. While practicing realistic drills could be perceived as traumatic for students, Ms. Harrison, Upper         School Counselor, sees “both sides.” She states that there are cases of students “for whom actually doing the training can be traumatic in itself.” However, she also sees “that for people who are anxious, who need to have a plan, it can actually be very comforting to do the training.”

        Ms. Harrison notes that for the entire community, realistic active shooter scenarios are “difficult - we never want to think that something like that is going to happen in our community, ever.”

        Around the nation, schools often turn to physically strengthening a school before funding preventative programming on the subject of mental health. In some instances, bulletproof whiteboards and blankets, an immense number of security cameras, and panic buttons are installed. The Atlantic reports that Camey                 Elementary School, situated in Texas, recently spent around $21.5 million to redesign their school into a fortress. And yet, many in the field of education argue that implementing stronger locks on doors and bulletproofing classroom furniture does not make a school inherently safer. 

        Instead, it seems that a more holistic approach is effective in preparing for the worst scenarios imaginable. ALICE training commits to the balance of mental and physical awareness, realizing that “lockdown is no longer enough.” When a community is emotionally prepared for the unthinkable, maybe a tragedy could be less detrimental.