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Canfield teachers, officials get armed-intruder training

Published: Sat, October 19, 2013 @ 12:01 a.m.




Jenny Beil’s adrenalin kicked into high gear when Mike Weiser entered the classroom with a gun — even though she was prepared for the simulated scenario.

“It’s scary,” said Beil, a 16-year Hilltop Elementary School third-grade teacher. “It’s a major heart race knowing they were going to come in and shoot at you.”

Despite a briefing beforehand, Beil was a bit shaken after Weiser, a Canfield police officer who played an armed intruder, entered her classroom with a pellet gun to simulate a school shooting. At the same time, though, she appreciated the learning experience.

Beil was one of an estimated 50 teachers, custodians and other school officials who attended Friday’s ALICE training session at Hilltop, 400 Hilltop Blvd.

ALICE (alert, lockdown and barricade, inform, countermeasures and evacuate) is a program designed to change how schools, businesses and universities think about and respond to armed intruders.

The techniques were developed shortly after the April 20, 1999, Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colo., in which Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris killed 12 fellow students and a science teacher and injured 21 others before taking their lives.

Also, three other four-hour ALICE sessions took place Friday in the Canfield School District.

Conducting the program at Hilltop was Scott Weamer, Canfield’s assistant police chief.

Weamer noted the first crucial step in dealing with an intruder is to be alert and ensure information flows as quickly and accurately as possible. Such an alert could be gunshots, screams or a warning via the public-address system, he explained, adding that people in the building need to take action immediately.

“Don’t doubt what you’re hearing. You need to make a decision,” he stressed.

Weamer used the Dec. 14, 2012, shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., to illustrate the danger of simply locking a room, because it makes those trying to hide easier targets. Twenty-six children and adults were killed in the attack.

Instead, available heavy objects such as chairs, desks and bookcases can be used as barricades, which likely would deter an armed intruder by making it more difficult and time-consuming to enter. That technique prevented Seung-Hui Cho, the gunman who killed 32 students April 16, 2007, at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., from entering a classroom and possibly taking more lives, Weamer noted.

In the first of four scenarios, participants were instructed to replicate the traditional lockdown method, then, on cue, Weiser burst into the classroom and easily saw the participants huddled in a corner of the room. The quick re-enactment pointed to why a lockdown by itself is ineffective, Weamer explained.

“If this had been real, how many of you would have been shot? Probably all of you, and some of you would have been killed, make no mistake,” he said.

During the second scenario, attendees applied a few ALICE techniques by placing desks, chairs, tables and supply carts against the door, rendering Weiser unable to get in.

The next re-enactment had participants pretend to be between classes while encountering the intruder. In a matter of seconds, most had fled through the nearest doors.

“It was a little startling, but a big adrenaline rush,” said Steve DeMaiolo, a second-year Canfield Middle School sixth-grade science and social-studies teacher.

DeMaiolo added that he felt much better prepared to handle such an emergency. He said he planned to discuss his training and formulate a plan with his students.

The final scenario gave the school staff an opportunity to practice taking countermeasures. As soon as Weiser entered, many tossed tennis balls and other light objects at him to practice thwarting a gunman.

Beil, the third-grade teacher, said her school was on lockdown the day of the Sandy Hook school shooting, and that she felt Friday’s training empowered her to better keep her students as safe as possible in the event an intruder comes to her school.

“We’re going to give our kids a chance for survival,” she said. “We need to give the kids the feeling they can do it.”

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