MONTVILLE, NJ – In the past, Montville Township schools have utilized lockdown procedures in the case of a perceived danger event not involving fire. This means that staff and employees have been trained to lock windows and doors and hide students from entrance doors when emergency protocols are invoked. This is referred to as a “lockdown.” It is used, for example, in the event that an unauthorized person has gained access to a school, such as if an active shooter situation occurred.
However, research shows that more can be done to ensure safety, so the district is adding to the lockdown procedure, training students and employees in what is known as “A.L.I.C.E.”
A.L.I.C.E. stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate, and according to experts, this procedure increases the chance of survival in the event of an active shooter scenario.
Patrolman Scott McGowan of the Montville Township Police Department has made several presentations at parent-teacher organization meetings across the district, including a meeting held May 24 at MTHS.
McGowan stressed that the new procedure will not replace the lockdown procedure but be an enhancement. Since the 2014 emergency button press lockdown at MTHS that resulted in the county’s SWAT team response but was a false alarm (see TAPinto Montville’s article here: False Alarm), changes have been made to decrease false alarms while improving safety, such as installing non see-through film in the cafeteria windows at the school.
The “alert” portion of the acronym involves giving more information about the problem than before. A lockdown used to be announced with a simple message, but A.L.I.C.E. procedures recommend using more specific information, such as, “intruder in front of the office,” or similar, McGowan said. This will allow those in the farthest portions of the building to make different decisions, he said.
The “lockdown” idea has changed too, McGowan said. Instead of simply locking the door, further barricade methods should be involved, such as placing all the desks in the room against the door. This makes a time barrier as well, he said.
“Informing” is important too, McGowan said, because of the fluidity of the situation. Reliable information via text or other methods has to keep flowing.
McGowan said to “counter” the shooter with chaos and distraction. If all of the students are huddled in the corner when he or she enters, the students are easy targets. But distraction, chaos and movement are needed to stay safe.
“This is a last resort, but if somebody comes into your classroom, you’ve got to do something,” McGowan said. “Throw books! We don’t want yelling if we’re in lockdown, but just if the shooter enters.”
“Evacuate” is the last portion of the acronym.
“Movement and distance are your best friends,” McGowan said. “The farther you can get away, the less likely you are to be shot, or to be killed from a shot. You’re making yourself a harder target.”
However, McGowan cautioned against using a vehicle to evacuate, because police need to identify the occupants before allowing it to leave, diverting them from school protection.
“Evacuation should be done using the enhanced information we discussed,” McGowan said. “You shouldn’t be leaving your classroom using the front door if it’s been announced that the shooter is right outside of it.”
McGowan assured parents that those who have left the building would eventually be accounted for.
“I have two children myself,” he said. “The waiting will be terrible but trust me, you’ll find them.”
He said that special education classrooms would have accommodations to set up barricading variations. He said the meeting point for parents and students is a highly unlikely point for the shooters to retry their attack because of the heavy police presence. He said fire drills typically take five minutes to evacuate the entire building, so it should not be a problem that the innocent students and staff will get in the way of police apprehending the suspects. He advised everyone evacuating to have empty hands with no black cell phones just in case.
“We’re not advising someone to go wrestle someone with a gun in the hallway,” McGowan said. “Countering is a last resort. If someone comes into our classroom with a gun, we need to do something as opposed to nothing.”
McGowan has completed presentations to the faculty in each building. The training will continue as each school conducts drills on the A.L.I.C.E. approach beginning in the fall.