This Time, It’s Not A Drill

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Sophie Marcus, Writer

Sweat beads roll down your face as you look down at your insanely clammy hands. Your body aches from sitting in the same position for half an hour, and with all of this chaos, only one thing is racing through your mind; will I make it home? Will I see my family again?

I remember hearing about the ALICE protocol for the first time at work. This protocol stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter, and, most importantly, evacuate. Many schools throughout Massachusetts follow this protocol by training their students and staff to know what to do if an armed intruder is in the school building. 

Local Schools Policies

One school system, in particular, that trains their students the ALICE training is Wilmington public schools in Wilmington, MA. The staff and students can follow each step in a different order; it means that they have options during a lockdown. If you are informed of where the intruder is and it is safe to evacuate, then you should. 

Wilmington public schools also follow the policy that if a lockdown happens, the teacher in each classroom would decide if the class should barricade the doors or evacuate the premises. 

Although many parents feel uncomfortable that their children could be put in harm’s way by evacuating, it is shown in a study at a school in Virginia that being passive is not the safest response during an active shooting. This goes along with the feeling that many students often feel helpless during a lockdown where they are told to hide under desks or along a bookshelf, left helpless.

Students feel a mix of emotions when they are told to barricade a door or sit on the ground during a lockdown because the chances of survival are slim by remaining passive. Ever since elementary school, I have felt helpless during a lockdown; even though they were just practice lockdowns, I still would feel anxious because I knew that if there was an armed intruder in the school, I might not survive. This is not something that an elementary schooler should have to worry about at the mere age of 10. 

I decided I needed to hear what the staff at Pentucket thinks about the way we practice lockdowns and the importance of being informed during one. 

Let’s Hear Mr. Casey’s Opinion

After asking 9th grade English, writing lab, and journalism teacher, Mr. Casey, what the lockdown protocol is that he is aware of, he states that “During a drill, you turn the lights off, lock the door, and get out of sight. I would have students go to the back corner of my classroom, and we would remain there until we got the all-clear. I think that when you do a drill, the simpler, the better.” 

I could not agree more with Mr. Casey. For a drill, you want everyone to remain calm, and everything will go smoothly since it is planned.

Next, I asked Mr. Casey if he thought it was an effective protocol in the event that this was not a drill: “ Unlike a drill, where you want everyone to be on the same page if there were an intruder in the building, you would be thinking on your feet more. You would start considering maybe you need to get out of the room.” 

Mr. Casey makes an excellent point that when practicing a drill, you will not take the exact precautions that you would take during an actual event of something happening. However, students should be aware of what we would do if there were an intruder in the building, as Mr. Casey mentioned; maybe we would have to evacuate the room. But if we may have to evacuate a room, why aren’t students aware that evacuation would be a potential option?

Lastly, I asked Mr. Casey if he thought we should have more options to take action on, and he said, “ When I worked in Boston, we had the ALICE program. In terms of there being an actual real-life situation, you will rely more on your instincts. We all have our cell phones on an app called Remind, so we can all communicate with each other through that. There are phones in the rooms, and we have an overhead system, so I think in terms of that, it is all covered.”

Mrs. McGowan’s Perspective

The following questions are not based on lockdown drills but if this was an actual situation.

I started my interview with Mrs. McGowan by asking her what lockdown protocol she is aware of that we would use if there were an intruder in the building. She states, “ Lockdown protocol is about locking the doors and checking for attendance. You need to be aware of who is not in the room, and those who are not should be pulled into another room with a teacher. Lights should be shut off, and in my room, we close the curtains, so it is completely blacked out, and we would wait for the next instruction that I will receive through my email or phone.”

This is good that Mrs. McGowan said this because it shows how both she and Mr. Casey are on the same page as to what you should do during a lockdown.

Mrs. McGowan wanted to add a little spin on things by giving me a suggestion that she would have to improve students’ behavior during lockdowns. Mrs. McGowan emphasizes, “We need to learn some calming techniques because I did have a student begin to have a panic attack during the practice lockdown. People should learn how to talk to someone who is having a panic attack. All teachers need to learn exercises to help anyone during a stressful time. Everyone needs to learn how to help someone who is undergoing a panic attack.”

This is an excellent idea. However, it is sort of hard to expect students to be calm and collected if there is an armed intruder in the building.

Lastly, I asked Mrs. McGowan if she knew if it was possible that people would need to evacuate the building, and she said that “I have recently asked the principal about this because I wanted to know this myself. Certain things are more appropriate at certain times. I was told that you need to do what you think is right. No teacher should be staying in a classroom if they are aware of what is going on and think there is a safer option. You can not make a judgment call unless you know what is happening.” 

If Mrs. McGowan was not aware that she had the power to have her class evacuate, how would students even know that they would be able to evacuate if it was safe to do so? The lockdown drills we practice are very simple, which is different from what a real lockdown would be like. If there were to be a real lockdown, many students would panic because they are currently unaware of how teachers would get information on what to do. 

After learning about how teachers will get emails or messages on the Remind app regarding someone being in the building, I now understand the source of communication.

Ms. Goodrich Brings Her Knowledge to The Table

The current lockdown protocol that Ms. Goodrich is aware of is “There are five different protocols. One is hold in place, and one is evacuate. Lockdown would be to turn off the lights, lock the doors, and get out of sight.” This sounds about right, considering all of the other teachers I have interviewed are saying the same thing.

Next, I asked Ms. Goodrich if she had any suggestions that the school needs to improve on: “Well, we still have not received our shades.

Some rooms have windows everywhere, and also some rooms would make it unable for people to get out of sight. I am lucky that people can get out of sight in my room, but those with window-filled rooms might be less fortunate.”

Ms. Goodrich then states that “Part of the protocol is if you can get out of the building, then you will be informed to do so. There are video cameras throughout every hall and staircase, as well as magnetic shutting doors. I believe that they will tell us what wing the intruder is in so that the other wings can evacuate.”

These are the magnetic shutting doors that Ms. Goodrich speaks of. Also, these doors are really good to have to ensure people’s safety and to prevent the intruder from traveling to multiple areas. However, this did make me wonder, how are we supposed to attempt to escape if we can not get out of these magnetic doors?

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Ms. Goodrich also tells me of another situation where there was a practice lockdown previous months ago. She was on her way to get lunch and had left her phone in the classroom. The problem that evolved here is that when the announcement on the overhead intercom went off, she ran into a random classroom on the first floor, and since she did not have any electronic, she was uninformed of what to do. 

This shows that we need to rely on other systems and not just cell phones and computers. Perhaps if we had code words and wing names on the overhead system, communication during lockdowns would be more efficient, and even for drills, everyone would be on the same page.

I then asked Ms. Goodrich what she knew about the ALICE protocol, and she told me people would be active if an intruder were in the room with this protocol. I asked her what she would do if the intruder came into her room, and she expressed, “If someone comes into my room, I do not know what we would do. I would throw things at the person myself. We would not remain under the desk; I am not risking my life by hiding under a desk and being passive. I would grab the fire hydrant and start hitting it at them.”

Students’ Mindsets

Moreover, if I had not interviewed the teachers I did, I would not have known that all of the teachers are connected on an app and that they would use their phones during a lockdown. It is essential in a community that everyone is on the same page. If I was unaware of teachers having options to evacuate and that they would receive messages through their phones during lockdowns, I can only imagine how many other students would be too.

This leads me to my next point.

What if the principal was kidnapped?

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We always practice that if Mr.Seymour says the drill is over that we would wait until a police officer comes in the room. But it would be hard for him to say he is kidnapped because it would put his safety at risk if being held captive. Going back to the idea of having code words and specific wing names, if a particular part of the school is told to evacuate, then wing names would make people more aware of what particular part of the school and floor is supposed to be evacuated.

After speaking with sophomore Kat Valeri, she says, “ I am pretty sure lockdown and evacuation are intertwined. It is unclear which one we would do since the school does not tell us. We either stay silent and hide or run for our lives. I feel this is what it looks like to a majority of us. No one is sure what to do since nothing really happens in the surrounding towns, but I do think that we should start to be informed.”

Not only do I agree with Valeri because she expresses how the school does not inform us of what we would do, but I agree with her because it is very unclear. We do not have a lot of crime or incidents in the towns surrounding Pentucket, but this is why we should become informed of the what-ifs because we would never expect something terrible to happen.

Sophomore Nina Gordon states, “ Different schools teach lockdowns differently. When I was in elementary school at Bagnell, our first option would be to try to get out of the building as fast as we could. In high school, I would want to evacuate, but people often hide. I felt more informed in elementary school because they told us what to do no matter what the situation was.”

Next, Gordon expresses that she felt informed and safe because, “Bagnell would use this book called; I’m not scared, I’m prepared, which taught the students what to do in an active shooter situation. I think we should know the procedure that the book teaches, which is to evacuate.” 

Mr. Bates 

The first question that I asked vice principal Mr. Bates was what is the current protocol during a lockdown that you are aware of, and he exclaimed, “ Lock the classroom door, get in a place where you are not viewed. Stay there until a principal dismisses you. When we do a drill it is the same thing as if something actually happened.” 

This seems about the same answer the other teachers interviewed said, so it looks like everyone is on the same page, for now.

I then asked Mr. Bates if evacuating the building may be a possibility during a lockdown if it was necessary and he said, “ Evacuation, yes, we have a plan to leave campus and find places in the community to get people with their families.” 

What I was wondering was how do you get people with their families while there is an intruder in the building? In general, if there is a plan that we would leave campus why do we not practice that during our lockdown drills? I believe evacuation should take priority over sitting under a desk or covering the windows.

Next, I asked what Mr. Bates would suggest someone do if an armed intruder walked in the room that they were in. He suggests, “ You know I do not know. I hope that would never happen. Honestly, I would hope someone would defend themself, but I am not sure if there is really a textbook definition. Just do the best you can to defend yourself.” 

As a school, we do not go over if we are to still hide or defend ourselves if an intruder was in the same room that we were in. However, Mr. Bates makes a good point to defend yourself.

Then I decided to tell Mr. Bates about previous circumstances that have occurred in my personal experience during the last drill we practiced. I told him about how I was in Spanish class for the last drill and how she had us tape paper to the windows because she did not want anyone looking in. However, in a real situation, we would not have had time for that. Like Mrs. Goodrich said earlier, the school ordered shades to cover the windows but they have not arrived yet. My spanish teacher is a great example of showing that those shades are very important incase of a real situation.

Mr. Bates replied to this by saying, “ Yeah I have heard of shutters. I know that obviously this is a new building. I know that. To be honest I think I am not entirely sure what law enforcement thinks about shutters. They want specific ones that go up and down.” After hearing Mr. Bates’ response, I am assuming Mrs. Goodrich indeed might be getting her blinds after all.

After discussing with a few of my teachers, I see that a lot of teachers are uncertain about the topic of blinds and if they will be getting them. 

During the previous lock down drill, we taped the windows, all 30 of us students sat under two tables against the wall. Then Mr. Seymour’s announcement went on that the drill was over and we could return to normal class work. That being said, all of us students get back and sit in our seats and our Spanish teacher plays a music video. About five minutes later, we get a knock at the door from the teacher next door telling us that the announcement was fake and that we have police come to each door to initiate that the drill is over. Apparently, the clear that we received on the intercom was not to be listened to because it was incase the principle was held hostage. 

When I told Mr. Bates about the principle held hostage and my Spanish teacher not knowing that, he said that, “ We try to get all teachers on the same page and superintendent Mr. Bartholomew is really concerned about this and so are the West Newbury police. If there is something we need to fix then we will fix it. Typically in that situation, a police officer will come to every room to indicate that it is over.”

My Spanish teacher is just one out of who knows how many teachers who are unfamiliar with this drill. Even though this is her first year at this school, she should still get the drill delivered to her clearly from the higher power in the building. As for the shades, I also would like to know where they are.

This brought me to my next point that I talked about earlier in this article. The idea that maybe we need code words if the principle is held hostage to indicate that the drill is indeed not over.

When asking Mr. Bates for his opinion on code words, he states, “ I am not sure I would ask the police about code words. However, I have heard of other schools that use code words. I don’t know if that is everything. The reason why we train everyone is so like other administrators return something to the police if something happened.” 

My last event that I brought up to Mr. Bates goes back to Ms. Goodrich’s story about how she was put in a random room without her phone on her during lunch time. She had no clue that there was going to be a drill, or else she probably would have brought her phone. This shows how teachers can not always rely on their phones or the remind app when receiving important information and during a drill or a real situation. 

Mr. Bates said, “ Yeah I mean, I think, you know most people will have their phones typically. It is just a way to communicate the best we can, not saying that everyone will have their phone on them it’s just for those who can communicate.” This brings me to my next point, the importance of overhead speakers. 

Mr. Bates response to if we would use overhead speakers was, “Yeah I mean I think the communication across is similar to phones.” Personally, this response did not really address the problem or that no one will be ready for an armed intruder situation. I think that overhead speakers would be more effective in ensuring everyone gets the message, and code words can then be used. 

That’s a Wrap

After interviewing numerous people, I feel that I am strongly more educated on how everyone sees lockdowns in different perspectives. Mr. Casey, Ms. Goodrich, Mrs. McGowan, and Mr. Bates showed me their opinions and I was able to think out side the box and come up with questions that I am sure a lot of people wonder. Thank you for reading this article and I hope you feel educated.