Conn. students learn new 'ABC' active shooter protocol

“Statistics show that if someone does something, more people survive,” Youth Officer Tom Paige said in describing the deficiencies of the old plan

By Joe Wojtas
The Day

STONINGTON, Conn. — Following the Parkland school shooting in February, police and school officials here began work on improving how teachers and students would respond to a shooting in their building.

On Wednesday night at Stonington High School, they outlined to parents the new ABC protocol they have developed and implemented.

“Statistics show that if someone does something, more people survive,” Youth Officer Tom Paige said in describing the deficiencies of the old plan, which called for students to lock the door and huddle together in the corner of the classroom while staying quiet.

“We’ve had conversations with them about how do you get out. We tell kids, 'Be a survivor, don’t be a victim,'” he said.

The plan was developed by Paige and Officer Ed Cullen, who has done in-depth reviews of all school shootings across the country to see how police and schools responded in an effort to improve Stonington’s response.

The two veteran officers combined various aspects of active shooter protocols used by the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and a commercial active shooter training program known as ALICE to develop a hybrid plan for the town’s schools. All police and school staff have been trained in the new procedures.

Students have been instructed in it in age-appropriate ways. High school students have been trained in the full ABC program, while younger students have been instructed in lockdown drills and to follow the directions of teachers to leave the school as they might do in a fire drill but with a possible change in routes.

Paige explained the old plan of huddling in a corner and then showed a video simulation of Cullen as the shooter entering the room and being able to shoot a large group of people quickly.

A better approach is for students to spread out and hide in different places around the room. If the shooter does not see anyone, he may leave.

The ABC approach presented Wednesday night, though, goes far beyond that, as it offers various options depending on the fluid nature of the situation and “increases the odds of survival,” according to Paige.

“We want to limit the number of people who are hurt,” he said.

The letter “A” stands for assess, as classrooms are locked and students and teachers listen for noise and information they may be able to provide to responding police officers about the exact location and description of the shooter and to help determine if they can escape. The information they provide can help officers more quickly locate the shooter and limit the number of people who are shot.

Meanwhile, principals will go into a room, look at video surveillance and tell police and staff where the shooter is. Police headquarters also can view the video. Students are asked to keep their cellphones silent and not call police unless they have specific details about the shooter, such as his location or description. This prevents the dispatch center from being inundated with calls about a shooting without any details.

“B” is for bolt — get out of the building, listen to the instructions of arriving police officers, hold your hands up and go to the “rally point.” A rally point is set up for each school where police and school officials can assess the number of students and staff who have escaped. At the high school, staff and students are asked not to use their cars to leave, as that will cause congestion for arriving police, firefighters and ambulances.

If they can’t bolt or decide if it is safe to remain in the school, teachers and students would barricade the locked door with furniture and other heavy objects, spread out to hide and be quiet.

“We trying to slow the guy down,” Paige said. “If it takes too much time, they may move to the next target and by then we are coming.”

In the case of the high school, the police station is just across the street.

“C” is for counter, a last resort.

“If someone enters the room, don’t sit back and be a victim,” Paige said. “We feel by doing something, we’re saving more lives vs. sitting and doing nothing.”

That includes throwing staplers, chairs and other objects at a shooter to disorient him and make it difficult to target victims while allowing some people to escape. If those in the classroom can then disarm the shooter, they are asked to not pick up the gun but put a garbage can or something over it and sit on it. If they have to carry it outside, they are told to keep it in the garbage can and not hold it in their hands.

During a question-and-answer period, parents asked what they should do if they have suspicions about someone who could be planning a school shooting.

Paige urged them to call police who can check if there are any guns registered to the person and if they have any mental health issues. In addition, police will go speak to the person.

Parents are told not to come to the school in the event of a shooting. A family reunion location has been set up as well as staging areas for first responders and the media. Instructions would be sent out to parents.

Paige and Alicia Dawe, the principal at West Vine Street and West Broad Street schools, explained that each day Paige is in the high school for most of the school day and spends time at the other schools, while patrol officers do walk-throughs of each of the other schools in the morning and afternoon.

Copyright 2018 The Day

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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