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UA teachers receive training to take on active shooter

By Doug Livingston
Beacon Journal education writer

alice19cut_1
Jacki Evans, a preschool teacher and Jim Barber, a graduate assistant at the University of Akron College of Education, barricade a door during A.L.I.C.E. (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate) training at the university's Child Development Center on Tuesday, in Akron. (Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal)

The lights dimmed in a children’s playroom at the University of Akron.

“This will tug at the strings of your hearts,” UA police Lt. Chad Cunningham said Tuesday afternoon as a projector streamed carnage onto the wall. Two young men re-enacted the Columbine high school massacre of 1999 before turning the guns on themselves.

The film was a primer for ALICE, a crisis training program that stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate.

Twenty staff and faculty at the university’s Center for Child Development attended the program. At least 14 of them had been through the program before, but in the aftermath of Friday’s school shooting at a Connecticut elementary, it wasn’t the same.

“All I could think about while he was going through that was the kids,” said Michele Fowkes, a preschool teacher at the center.

Fowkes thought of her colleagues in the school’s reception area, the nearly 80 children in the center’s classrooms and the 20 elementary students who perished Friday.

“Until it really happens, you don’t know what you’ll do,” she said.

During the video and two-hour training Cunningham led, Fowkes contemplated each scenario. She and others were asked what they would do in the event of an active shooter.

“Run.”

“Hide.”

“Call for help.”

“Be quiet.”

“Play dead.”

After assisting and leading the training of more than 26,000 people at UA since 2008, the answers were nothing new to Cunningham.

“My answer is ‘ALICE,’ ” he told the class.

Throughout the interactive training, Cunningham broke down the program’s lessons step by step.

• Being alert means “paying attention to behavior” and knowing that a shooter could be “anybody and everybody.”

• “A traditional lockdown isn’t enough.” Teachers and students are encouraged to barricade doorways with heavy objects, like desks, tables and bookshelves.

• Calling for help is as important as relaying pertinent and meaningful information. Cunningham advised participants to describe the shooter’s clothing, description and — most importantly — his or her whereabouts to colleagues and law enforcement.

• During a physical portion of the training, participants threw objects and mobilized to divert and avoid mock gunfire. Then they wrestled the shooter to the floor and were advised to place the gun in a trash can to avoid confusion when law enforcement arrives.

• Lastly, Cunningham told the class that, aside from the doorway, windows are a plausible escape route.

Ultimately, the program encourages options and multiple strategies, and not a single answer.

“You need to improvise,” Fowkes said after training concluded.

The idea is to be proactive, not passive. But Fowkes struggled with the thought of leaving a corner to make an escape with her children. She considered that fleeing might not always be an option.

“If I’ve got kids in that corner, I’m not running away,” she said. “I’m running toward the gunman so the kids can get away.”

There are no mandates in the program, Cunningham reassured Fowkes. It’s about developing, being aware of and exploring options.

“That’s what this is about. We are empowered by options,” he said.

The university conducts the crisis training two or three times a week, but this session, scheduled weeks before the Connecticut shooting, struck a chord with teachers and administrators.

“It really drives it home now that we had that shooting [in Connecticut] because there are elementary students here,” said Yetty Michael, director for the Center for Child Development.

Michael schedules the training once each semester. The center, like other university buildings, also performs a monthly fire drill and a “total evacuation” each semester, when students and teachers completely vacate the premises.

The training and tenacity are meant to prepare the campus community and reassure parents that the center and the campus are ready for the unpredictable.

“We know that we’re not immune here,” Michael said.

Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com.