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BCS learning to fight back

Berlin Community School faculty members underwent ALICE training this week, a program that gives options to those in the event of an active shooter

Sandy Hook. Stoneman Douglas. Columbine.

These schools are now synonymous with the phrase “school shooting” for much of the country. While state and federal governments continue to debate about a potential solution to attempt to solve such a tragic issue, Berlin Community School is preparing itself to be ready in the unfortunate event a similar situation would arise there.

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Over the past few weeks, Sgt. TJ Varano has helped teach and lead ALICE training for faculty and staff at BCS, a program that teaches proactive strategies for those reacting to an active shooter. ALICE training has been conducted in schools, churches, businesses and more since the early 2000s.

ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. While there are many aspects to the training and much to learn, the most important point is that ALICE training gives those dealing with an active shooter options other than the traditional style of reacting, which is typically to lock the doors and hide in a hard corner of the room, away from door windows.

“ALICE is going to provide more options than what [the school] may already have in place,” Varano said.

Sgt. TJ Varano describes the simulation to faculty at BCS and reviews the different techniques of reacting to an active shooter

Having read the after-action reports from school shootings over the past few years, Varano said in a presentation to BCS faculty earlier in the month that the constant theme is these schools weren’t ready to respond to an active shooter.

“When you read the after-action reports… they say that the school wasn’t prepared, the teachers weren’t prepared,” Varano said. “There’s nothing more embarrassing than that.”

Rather than hiding from an active shooter, this program teaches faculty to barricade doorways or other points of entry to their classrooms with tables, chairs and bookshelves. Additionally, they can use belts or rope to prevent the door from opening.

BCS underwent ALICE Training on Tuesday, Jan. 22, and Wednesday, Jan. 23, with Varano and approximately 10 additional officers from the Berlin Borough Police Department to help demonstrate the different methods to responding to an active shooter.

Middle school teachers underwent training on Tuesday, running through multiple simulations of different styles of training with faculty and staff split between three classrooms.

First, after an alert was made that an active shooter was in the building, a man holding a Nerf gun went room to room shooting toy darts at faculty as they used the traditional style of hiding in a corner. Afterward, approximately half the staff reported having been “shot” in some way.

The next demonstration allowed those in the classrooms to barricade the rooms how they saw fit, such as with tables and chairs rather than hiding. The “shooter” made it to all three rooms, however the hit rate dropped significantly.

In the final demonstration, where faculty and staff could defend their classrooms in any way, the fake active shooter didn’t make it past the first room — those in the classrooms barricaded the door, threw trash cans as he entered and then ultimately brought him to the ground after those hiding rushed to overcome him.

A member of the Berlin Police Department, pretending to be an active shooter, attempts to break into a classroom during a simulation on Tuesday, Jan. 22

“Why not give those options?” Varano said to faculty in-between simulations.

Michael Ford, a STEAM teacher at BCS, said he appreciated having the opportunity to not only learn about ALICE training through a presentation, but also work through it in simulations as well.

“In giving us the various strategies, if we’re put in that situation, we would have the confidence and courage to choose one that would work best in that scenario,” Ford said. “I think it’s safe to say it’s a much more effective technique and strategy when you look at the number of shots fired and hit with ALICE training.”

STEAM teacher Michael Ford watches a doorway to the classroom while holding objects to throw at the ‘active shooter’ during the simulation at Berlin Community School

While the school did have this training, BCS will continue to follow the state guidelines for active-shooter drills, Superintendent Kristen Martello said.

Parents in the community are invited to the BCS cafeteria on Tuesday, Feb. 5, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. for a meeting with Varano to discuss procedures with staff and student safety. ALICE training is also expected to take place for age appropriate students later this spring.


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