Intruder drill improves from last year

photo+by+Ty+Jamieson

photo by Ty Jamieson

Grace Vance

With last year’s largely unsuccessful ALICE intruder drill still in the minds of faculty and staff, this year many administrators were quick to address the problems revealed during the previous drill. ALICE, an acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate, is meant to instruct students to leave the school if possible, or to lockdown their classroom if the intruder is near. The new drill happened on Oct. 29 at 11:15 a.m.
Assistant principal Tim Baker said one of the major problems they addressed this year was teachers’ and students’ attitude toward the drill.
“We haven’t made any changes [from this year to last year] except for practice,” Baker said. “We practiced with the teachers before [students] even got here this year. We had some quote-unquote “dry runs” with the teachers and practiced what we would do based on where you are at in the building. Our opinion is, if teachers take it seriously, the students will follow.”
Business teacher Stacy Elsbury experienced this change in attitude and believes it was the source of her class’s success during this year’s drill. After inadvertently leading her class into the path of the intruder last year, she said this year her strategy has improved with her efforts to reorient herself with the school and adjust her lockdown and escape plan.
Half of my students and I saw the intruder last year indicating we would have been killed in a real scenario. Last year the intruder entered downstairs and I never really thought about what classes were underneath me,” Elsbury said. “Since I am almost never downstairs, I’m not as familiar with the layout. After the drill, I realized I needed to have a better sense of awareness of where I am in the building.”
During last year’s drill, the staged intruder focused on the math wing of the building. This year the focus was on the studies wing of the school, where there is the most concentrated number of students.
Junior Lily Fisher was in Deanna Fancher’s child development class in the previous drill and said her class experienced some problems similar Elsbury’s: not knowing parts of the school well enough. This year, she was in Deborah McDonough’s and Kim Thielen-Metcalf’s AP U.S. History and Language class where she and her classmates got out quickly and safely. Her experience being in different parts of the building exhibits the importance of listening to the intercom voice over and acting in accordance.
“This year [my] class was a bit more organized. Our teachers even made us barricade the doors with desks because the intruder was in the studies wing near us,” Fisher said. “I think it was easier to get out of the [building] because we knew the area well. In child development, we took too long trying to find our way to the door because we didn’t know the path well.”
Baker said that McDonough and Metcalf’s class, as well as Amanda Schirmer and Neal Blackburn’s classes impressed administrators the most, as they had the hardest job to do with the intruder in close proximity. He believes their immediate reaction and prompt decision making skills is something that will spread across the rest of the school as the school conducts more drills.
“This time it was a completely different story. People were sprinting out of here, we saw doors barricaded, we saw everything. I think we just continue to remind teachers how serious it is and they definitely trickle that down to you guys, no doubt about it. I don’t know how every class went, but I got around most of the building during that three and a half minutes [that it took for the school to empty out] and it was completely different than last year,” Baker said. “This place is so big and people are running in so many directions at so many different times that it’s very confusing. You really have to think about where to go. We could have not been more pleased. I can’t tell you how well it went, as far as I’m concerned.”
Many things have changed between the previous drill and this year’s drill, including the introduction of the buzz-in system, which Baker believes keeps the school much more secure, whereas before the building was a “free for all” for anyone to access the school. With these alterations, he said the building is more secure against individuals aiming to provoke havoc throughout the school.
“It might look like chaos when we do the drill, but that’s exactly what we want. If you’ve been planning an attack on this building, the last thing you’re counting on is chaos,” Baker said. “You’re counting on easy targets. We don’t want easy targets, we want organized chaos. People always say, ‘You can’t beat a gun, a gun always wins.’ That’s true, but I’d rather try than sit there.”

“This time it was a completely different story. People were sprinting out of here, we saw doors barricaded, we saw everything.” — Tim Baker, assistant principal”

Even though teachers and students displayed massive improvements, there were still problems that arose such as the intercom not working and pile ups by major exits.
Despite these complications, Baker believes one of the advantages to these intruder drills is learning how administrators can improve their strategy.
Another obstacle administrators face is that while they want to increase the number of intruder drills they do from one to at least three drills each year, they have 19 other government mandated drills that range from the tornado drill to the fire drill.
“We can’t get away with doing [fewer] fire drills, [fewer] tornado drills, [fewer] earthquake drills. There comes a point in time when you’re kind of saturated in drills and you’re taking away instructional time,” Baker said. “We’re trying to figure out a way to do that and reduce some other drills, but right now they won’t let us reduce other drills. We want to do more and we will do more than two this year, but it’s a lot of drills. I feel like if you do drills too much it almost has a negative effect. People start going through the motions, they don’t take it seriously. We’re still trying to find that line.”
Although administrators are struggling to find a balance between drill protocol and instructional time, the statistics can’t be ignored.
“Either way, the reality is we haven’t had a death by fire in over 50 years [in schools] anywhere in the United States. In the last 10 years there’s been over 700 people killed in school shootings. This calendar year, 40,” Baker said. “Let’s look at the statistics here, we’re much more likely to die by something like that or at least have that as a major danger than we are a fire. So we’ve tried to shift our focus a little bit to what is actually occurring.”
Although there were classes like Elsbury’s who did not perform as anticipated during the last intruder drill, she said she is glad for the experience, saying that it made her reconsider her action plan.
I am so glad we have run intruder drills the past two years. It has helped me process how to be more effective in getting my students out alive. I continue to grow in this process because we continue to have drills,” Elsbury said. “My anxiety level around these drills is higher, I’ll admit. However, I am in complete favor of doing more drills and getting more vague in the preparation. Sadly, our world today constitutes that we must be prepared at all times for something like this. It’s easy to think we will know what to do if we ever find ourselves in this situation, but the reality of that is unlikely without intentional preparation.”
Fisher holds a similar stance to Elsbury, and believes that these drills have helped RBHS prepare and become a safer place.
“I like the idea of having more drills. I think having a plan and being prepared for anything is what would save lives in the future,” Fisher said “It can never hurt to practice for a situation like this.”
With continuous drills and improvements made, Baker believes the school can deter anyone from coming into RBHS with the intent to harm.
Really, the overarching theme of the new active intruder ALICE lockdown drills we do is, we keep preaching to people: proactive. We make it very explicit what we’re going to do if someone comes in,” Baker said. “The idea is to make it very explicit and known, which hopefully is a proactive step that will discourage anyone from coming here in the first place.”