Palmyra schools get serious about student safety

Beginning in March, the district will be training students in ALICE procedures, actions they can take in the event of an active shooter situation.

By Stephen Finn

The Sun

ALICE (alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate) is a training program to prepare schools and organizations for an emergency situation.

According to alicetraining.com, “ALICE training instructor-led classes provide preparation and a plan for individuals and organizations on how to more proactively handle the threat of an aggressive intruder or active shooter event. Whether it is an attack by an individual person or by an international group of professionals intent on conveying a political message through violence, ALICE training option-based tactics have become the accepted response, versus the traditional ‘lockdown only’ approach.”

On Thursday, Feb. 28, the Palmyra School District hosted a community information session at Charles Street Elementary School about the implementation of ALICE training throughout the district.

The information session was led by Superintendent Brian McBride, Safety and Security Officer Richard Dreby and School Resource Officer Omar Kendall.

McBride began with an update on recent efforts throughout the school district to bolster student safety and school security. An award through the Burlington County Freeholders Safety Grant totaling $707,000 has made possible several security upgrades for Palmyra schools.

According to McBride, one of the main upgrades will be a security vestibule for the high school. The superintendent described the addition, which he estimates at around $150,000, as a “mouse trap.”

“You come through one set of doors, you’re buzzed in through those and now you’re in a secure, contained area between another set of doors. In that box is a window that you can communicate with office personnel but you can’t get any further,” said McBride.

Additional upgrades include new cameras and lighting and upgrades to access systems.

Dreby introduced attendees to the ALICE training program and how it is implemented in schools.

“The whole idea behind ALICE is to teach the children several different avenues they have to try to defend against an active shooter,” said Dreby.

According to Dreby, the first step in an active shooter scenario, if evacuation is not a safe option, is a school lockdown.

Lockdown procedures involve teachers clearing the hallways and locking and barricading their classroom doors. Students are positioned against the walls of the classroom and away from the door where they can’t be seen from the hallway.

The district’s first exposure to ALICE was a two-day training program the administrative team attended in June 2017. The program took place at the high school and brought in administrators from surrounding districts as well.

Participants went through intense simulations of active shooter scenarios and were introduced to response tactics utilizing ALICE methodology and planning. According to McBride, school staff will continue to train in these response measures on a regular basis.

Dreby stressed the program is meant to “teach children without scaring children.” A key part of ALICE involves students taking action under the direction of their teacher, whether it be helping to barricade a door or assisting their fellow classmates.

“The good news is there are simple and effective ways of teaching children to help protect themselves that will work most of the time. These can be taught in a calm, reassuring manner without causing undue anxiety,” said Dreby.

Beginning in March, the district will be training students in ALICE procedures.

For more information on ALICE, parents can visit alicetraining.com.