CRESWELL STAFF PRACTICES ONE OF THE ALICE (ALERT, LOCKDOWN, INFORM, COUNTER AND EVACUATE) COUNTERING TECHNIQUES DURING A TRAINING ON JAN. 11. ALIYA HALL/THE CRESWELL CHRONICLE
In 2018, there were 24 school shootings with injuries or death, according to an Education Week tracker of k-12 school shootings. The year was described by the BBC as the ”worst year for U.S. school shootings.”
To prepare Creswell's schools in the event of a threat, Lane County Sheriff's Office (LCSO) and Creswell School District (CSD) are working closely together to keep schools safe through active shooter training for staff and students and by assessing the schools for campus vulnerabilities.
LCSO Sergeant Scott Denham brought ALICE training on Jan. 18 to staff who have yet to go through any shooter preparedness training. ALICE, which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate is a training option that goes beyond a ”lockdown only” approach.
”We know that we have to be prepared for anything now,” Denham said. ”Given the state of our society, we definitely have examples of gun violence and other violence in schools.”
ALICE was first brought to the district several years ago, when officers from multiple agencies within Lane County first got trained with it.
”(We) joined together in saying that if we're going to do this with our school districts, we're going to get everyone trained so every agency in the county is on the same sheet of music,” Denham said. ”Teachers, principals and kids are all doing the same thing, so when we come into a threat we know what everyone is doing.”
All ALICE training is age-appropriate. Creswell Superintendent Todd Hamilton said that for young students, the biggest element is to do whatever the teacher asks them to do.
”We need to get parents past the fear that we're training little kids the same as we're training teachers,” Denham said. ”There's an elementary-age level for practicing. We're not training little kids to take out bad guys.”
Denham said participants are trained how to protect themselves; how to not be a target; how to make an informed decision; and how to take age-appropriate action.
He said practicing these drills can prevent pandemonium, and gives people the training to be able to take action.
It is a lot easier than you'd think.
”If we are training adults and age-ready kids how to counter and overcome a shooter, someone is gonna step up and do it if they are trained - that's what we found,” Denham said.
Denham said he prefers ALICE because most other programs don't have a follow-up to inform or counter, specifying that countering isn't the first action that staff should take, but if a shooter has entered the classroom: It's a last resort. Countering through noise, movement or distraction - is an easy tool to use. ”When faced with danger, you must do something,” said one quote from the ALICE training site.
At this point, ALICE training has been adopted in every Lane County school district and many private and charter schools, except for Oakridge.
When the lockdown took place at Cascade Middle School on Jan. 11 after a person was fatally shot outside, Denham said that the preliminary reports said students had barricaded their doors perfectly because they had practiced the training earlier this year.
Denham said that the goal of ALICE is to empower staff members to trust their instincts, and he said that the Creswell staff has been receptive and are more mentally prepared.
”People here had a lot of questions but when you do drills, you realize it's easy; it's common sense,” he said. ”It's giving people the opportunity to make decisions when before they couldn't. Now they can choose based on the information they get what their response is going to be.”
For high school staff member Ginny Krzenski, she said the training was important because shootings have become such a common occurrence. ”I learned you can be proactive even without formal training,” she said.
At this point, Denham said children are ”hungry” for this type of training. Students at Creswell High School have been asking for training, and Denham said preparing kids when they're young and adding onto it at each grade level will help it become an obvious response.
”People who want to shoot up schools will think twice because they got that training, and they know what everyone else will do,” he said. ”Our goal is to mitigate violence.”
Another way to mitigate violence in our schools is through identifying vulnerabilities on campuses.
Things are different now. In the past, schools were the ”inviting place” to be in the community, Denham explained. ”School campuses were the place for kids, community members to gather together; you didn't want your school to feel like a prison.”
Now, the national trend for schools is to assess school vulnerabilities, and Creswell schools have gotten these assessments through a division of the National Rifle Association (NRA) called the National School Shield Program (NSSP).
Denham said that, in light of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the NRA wanted to get involved in looking into school safety and created the SSP division to addresses facets of school security, including best practices in security infrastructure, technology, personnel, training and policy.
NSSP has allowed Creswell schools to get a from-the-outside-in look at how the schools are designed, what their strengths are and where improvements can be made.
The first assessment done was at Creswell Middle School, Denham said. ”We looked at everything from play structures to exterior doors and how easy it is to get inside. We looked at the entire perimeter of the property, how easy is it for people to get on campus, is there easy access...everything that has to do with the safety of the school - not just active shooter stuff.”
Then assessors sit down with students, parents, kids, bus drivers, staff, to see what their thoughts are on policies in the schools and if they feel safe. ”Kids are candid and parents normally are, too, so you can get a good look at what's going on,” Denham said.
He said that during the high school assessment, they found that, ”all of the students we talked to at the high school felt like it was a great place to be, as far as bullying, because it doesn't happen there for the most part... Bullying is probably the number one reason that kids bring guns to school, so if we're eliminating that by policy and how we treat people, that's a big plus.”
Assessors then sit down and hash out what is going right, see where improvements can be made, ”especially with the infrastructure of the school, outer perimeters, those kinds of things,” Denham said.
There are currently three people in Lane County trained to do these assessments - two of which are in Creswell, Sergeant Denham and Deputy Bryan Holiman.
”It's mutually beneficial because we now have three LCSO officers who are intimately familiar with our schools, and it's pretty rare for the law enforcement to spend that much time in facilities,” said Superintendent Hamilton. ”Sergeant Denham and Deputy Holiman are likely to be first responders if something were to happen here; they are very familiar with our campuses, (and) they are primed and ready.”
These inspections will also give Creswell schools the ability to apply for school safety grants as well as grants specifically through the NRA, Denham said.
”There isn't a national standard for this,” said Joel Higdon, Director of Technology and Maintenance for Creswell schools. ”So Creswell is fortunate it has this great cooperation occurring between our schools and law enforcement. We're both listening to each other and taking it to heart because it is difficult; one size does not fit all.”