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Madawaska students learn strategies to handle an active shooter event

MADAWASKA, Maine — Local and state law enforcement officials visited students of the Madawaska School Department recently to teach them how to handle the unthinkable — an active shooter situation.

The officers worked with the youngsters using the strategic training program ALICE, which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter, and evacuate. The program is designed to equip individuals with the skills they would need to use if ever an active shooter or aggressive intruder entered a school building or appeared on school grounds.

The district is working toward getting certified in the ALICE technique, which requires that 75 percent of staff take an online course and attend an in person training session. The school system held one of those sessions for the staff at the end of May and an informative session for parents at the end of September. To be certified, the district also must include the ALICE policy in its emergency operations plan and conduct drills during the year.

The middle and high school students had their training sessions on Oct. 15 in the library of the school.

At the beginning of each training session, the students were briefed on the ALICE model before being given the first scenario involving an active shooter in the cafeteria. As soon as the students were told which part of the school the pretend shooter was in, they scrambled to evacuate the building. A majority of the students did well, aside from a few who ran in the wrong direction and a girl during one session who fell down the stairs.  

The second scenario involved one of the staff and members of law enforcement acting as the active shooter. The students were given tennis balls and instructed to counter the attacker by throwing the balls at him. The tennis balls symbolized any items that students would be able to find to throw at an attacker in a real situation. When the “attacker” walked into the library, tennis balls flew across the room, as students screamed and a few tackled the man to the ground to allow the other students to escape.

“Before, we wanted you to be passive and hide, now we want you guys to be active,” said Sgt. Josh Haines of the Maine State Police.

Haines did stress, however, that police do not want the students to confront an intruder, rather just counter an attacker as a last resort.

Students who actively participated in both the evacuation drill and the counter drill said they approved of the training, some even liked it better than what was done before.

“This [approach] is better than just sitting in a corner,” said senior high school student Ian Toussaint. “I always thought it was weird because you’re just asking for it.”

For the elementary school children, Maine State Police trainers incorporated an age appropriate book to teach them about how to handle an attacker coming into the school. Without scaring the young students, different law enforcement officers read aloud a story about a shepherd, wolf, and sheep.

The story was told from the perspective of a child in school who got to play a sheep while his teacher played the shepherd and they learned how to distract and escape the wolf, who symbolized an attacker.

“Safety drills are supposed to help us, not hurt us,” read a passage in the book.

The young students also acted out two scenarios for the ALICE training. The first was the evacuation drill, and the other was the counter drill.

Before the counter drill, students brainstormed with law enforcement and teachers about what kind of objects they could throw to disorient the gunman. Some students thought of immediate, obvious items in the classroom such as books, pencil boxes, glue sticks, staplers and tape dispensers, while other students thought of more unconventional items such as rocks from recess and potatoes from harvest.

Other provisions the school has taken to ensure student and staff safety have involved installing video phones at building entrances, using electronic key fobs for entering the building, updating phone and intercom systems, and adding and upgrading cameras of which the video feed is accessible to law enforcement remotely at all times.

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