School Security After Sandy Hook

By Lawrence Hardy

Sitting on the classroom floor -- as the children would have been instructed to sit -- Bill Gleason could feel the fear, the sense of waiting for the inevitable.    A bunch of cops had volunteered to be “bad guys.” They stalked the halls of the vacant school, carrying airsoft rifles -- little more than toys, really, but whose plastic projectiles pack a real sting when they hit the skin.

Gleason, security director for Pennsylvania’s City of Lancaster School District and a former police officer himself, could hear the intruders shouting as they methodically entered a series of darkened classrooms where other “students” -- school security personnel, more police, and school board members -- were huddled in corners in a typical school response to an armed intruder. Gleason could hear his colleagues in those classrooms wince as they were hit.

“Man, I did not like the feeling of just sitting there,” Gleason recalls.

The instructors were training school leaders in a relatively new and controversial response to intruders called ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate). The controversial part is, of course, “counter.” If evacuating the classroom or locking down and barricading the room are not possible, staff can choose to fight back by having students and staff throw things at the shooter or even swarm him, ALICE trainers said. But first they wanted to show participants what likely would happen in a typical lockdown.

“If you’re an armed gunman, and you make your way into a school and the kids are all lined up sitting neatly on the floor in the corner, you can’t miss,” Gleason says.

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