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Hello deranged gunman at Valdez City Schools - we'd like you to meet A.L.I.C.E.
Valdez police chief Bill Comerwould like you to meet A.L.I.C.E. too. And the new bullet-stopping white boards teachers have been issued districtwide.
The A.L.IC.E. concept – an acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate – gives teachers new discretion on how to react if the need to protect students from a rampage arises inside the schools.
"This is a result, as most of you are aware, of the firearm in the school last year," Comer told the board of education during a brief presentation on the white boards and ALICE training Monday.
No one was injured, specifically targeted or put in immediate danger last school year when a handgun was found stashed in a boys bathroom at the old Gilson Middle School. However, from the tragedy of the Sandy Hook school shootings in late 2012 to the recent stabbing of 19 teenagers by a sophomore student at a high school in Pennsylvania, violence by armed intruders in schools is a growing threat nationwide and even small schools with low crime rates such those in Valdez need to be prepared to deal with it.
"Watching the news, I just get a sick feeling all the time," Comer said, and introduced the Valdez Public Schools Armed Assailant Emergency Action Plan.
Earlier in the day, Comer and handful of Valdez police met with teachers and staff at Hermon Hutchens Elementary School for a first round of training with representatives of Hardwire LLC, manufacturer of the white boards, which are being distributed to teachers. It also introduced staff to the new A.L.IC.E. strategies.
In the past, teachers nationwide, including those in Valdez, were instructed to lock classroom doors and hide students in place in the event a gunman or any type of armed assailant entered school property. The lockdown concept, while not being totally abandoned if deemed appropriate for the given situation, often makes students and teachers sitting ducks for a shooter or other violent intruder.
The ALICE concept is incorporates a number of steps schools can take to be flexible if the need arises, including using the PA system to keep people inside the building informed of events, confuse the intruder, and basically buy time before police can arrive at the scene.
According to George Tunis, CEO of Hardwire, the majority of school shooters kill themselves as soon as police arrive.
A.L.I.C.E. also gives school authorities the discretion to evacuate all or some of the school during a violent rampage. It also trains teachers how to fight off an armed attacker if they are confronted with deadly violence and how to best defend themselves and students with the use of white boards.
"It's very usable," Gilson Middle School principal Rod Morrison told the school board, "It's not intended to be in the closet, it doesn't help you there."
The white boards are a kind of shield that have multiple uses in the classroom. The white boards look like and can be used just like an ordinary white dry erase board. In fact, the company encourages teachers and school employees to use them as such. However, these white boards are constructed of durable, lightweight proprietary materials developed by the Dept. of Defense and are designed to withstand shots from handguns and shotguns. It absorbs bullets into the materials without a ricochet effect Tunis said as he passed around a demonstration white board that had over 30 bullet wounds. It was a tad crinkled, but the integrity of the white board remained.
In extreme cases, the white boards can also be used as weapons if a violent attacker becomes unarmed.
Tunis likened the white boards – a form of mobile armor that is stouter than police protective vests – to other common items found in schools use in emergencies such as fire extinguishers.
"A board in every room and several in the common rooms," Comer said when asked how many boards were purchased for the schools.
According to Todd Wegner, a former teacher for Valdez City Schools who is now assistant city manager of Valdez, the white boards were purchased by city for use in the schools and cost approximately $30,000, which included the cost of training by Hardwire.
A stouter version of the white boards, designed to withstand shots from assault rifles, will be distributed in limited numbers in all school buildings.
Officer Aaron Baczuk of VPD introduced A.L.I.C.E. training to the teachers.
During Comer's brief presentation to the school board, member Dan Walker, who is married to a teacher, said that he'd received positive feedback on the A.L.I.C.E. training, saying it was the first time teachers felt they were empowered to protect students if the need arises.
As Baczuk said during the teacher training, "You don't have people coming into your room just wanting to hurt you a little bit."
Comer said that while the schools have been the top priority in the emergency action plan, the concept of A.L.I.C.E. and the use of white boards are part of a city-wide program to improve safety in public buildings owned by the city.
"This isn't the end," he said "this is where we get started."