WA carries out A.L.I.C.E. procedure


John Vassiliou

Students gather outside the trail to Robinson Elementary School.

Keertana Gangireddy and Srinithi Raj

On Friday, October 6th, Westford Academy held its first A.L.I.C.E. (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) evacuation drill. This particular drill differed from those in past years, as it closely replicated a real-life emergency situation with greater accuracy than before.

Previously, each classroom was given a specific scenario that would be read aloud, and acted upon with either a barricade, an evacuation, or a counter-attack. This year, however, there was an individual playing the role of a dangerous intruder who went through the school blowing an air horn and a whistle to simulate gunshots.  

The authorities of the school were not informed about the location of the intruder, and were required to learn the location of the intruder spontaneously, as needed during a realistic lockdown. Classrooms had to decide the most reasonable method to use to protect themselves according to the proximity of the intruder relative to the location of a given room.

If the intruder was a safe distance away from the classroom, students would evacuate to either the Robinson or Crisafulli Elementary Schools, where buses would drop off students to the Stony Brook Middle school for a reunification with family. If the intruder were to be in a close proximity of a certain classroom, the students would barricade the door and await further information regarding the whereabouts of the intruder.

The A.L.I.C.E. drill began with a fifteen-minute video of Dean Bob Ware and Student Resource Officer Geoffrey Pavao briefly explaining what would be going on, and what to do if there was actually a dangerous individual in the school halls. It included a demonstration by theater arts teacher Michael Towers and his students. 

Shortly after the video, the students and faculty carried out the A.L.I.C.E. procedure. Many teachers had their students huddled together and barricaded all entrances. Once an update was given that the individual was far from the classroom, they exited the school out onto the field. By the end of the drill, almost all students had flocked to the soccer field near the trail to the Robinson Elementary School or to Hartford Road on their way to the Crisafulli Elementary School.

There has been critique over the lack of emergency lockdown preparation at WA over the past few years; many feel as if drills such as A.L.I.C.E should be carried out several times a year as opposed to only once every few years. As such, the school has made an effort to improve lockdown training, including training with the Police and Fire Department last April and an initiative to increase the number of Student Resources Officers in the district.

As gun violence in recent years has impacted schools nationwide, students are becoming aware of the necessity of A.L.I.C.E. drills and the reality that what they see on the news may very well happen to them.

“I think A.L.I.C.E. drills happen because school shooting numbers are going up every year and it is important to make sure that there are as little casualties as possible,” said Freshman Nikita Ang.

A.L.I.C.E. drills, although they assemble students for dangerous situations, can be scrutinized by some regarding the safety of those with anxiety and panic disorders. Some claim that A.L.I.C.E. can be severely traumatizing for people, and may ruin the safe learning environment the high school aims to provide.

“It could be a little too much for them [people with anxiety] depending on what the situation is. I have some social anxiety issues. It’s very scary. I know it’s fake, but sometimes I’m praying a little bit,” stated Sophomore Ankit Makhija in regard of the effect A.L.I.C.E. can have on people with certain anxiety disorders.

Some believe it is essential to gain real-life experiences in these situations no matter the circumstances.

“I don’t think it [A.L.I.C.E.] should be remodeled [to better suit people with anxiety], because in real-life situations, it can’t be changed. I feel like they should feel the anxiety because they have to be prepared when it actually happens,” stated an anonymous source.

The drill ran smoothly, but many students felt as though it prepared students only for the best-case scenario. There was only one intruder, and most people were able to get out of the school with no problems. Additionally, the drill took place when all students were in class, though a lockdown situation could occur during lunch or passing time with people in the hallways, said several students.

“It [the drill] taught me how to get to Crisafulli, I guess. But I was kind of worried whether [or not] my friends were okay […] Also, Mr. Ware said that the first ‘A’ in A.L.I.C.E. was alert, but we kind of didn’t hear the intruder. What if the teachers were unable to say what was going on over the intercom? How would we know where the person is and what’s the best way to get safe?” said freshman Sakthiabinav Chandramohan.

After the drill was carried out, students re-grouped with their classmates to reflect on what happened.