By John Anderson

APD Sergeant Ken Charlton, acting as an active shooter, begins his search of town hall. ©John R. Anderson

APD Sergeant Ken Charlton, acting as an active shooter, begins his search of town hall. ©John R. Anderson

This article’s headline may seem cute, but the subject is nothing less than ugly. ALICE is an acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate, five strategies to deal with an active shooter. All too often in recent years, we’ve heard of shootings in schools, government buildings and other public places. The consequences have been horrific, and Auburn’s government leaders want our community to be better prepared.

ALICE was developed by Texas law enforcement officer Greg Crane in 2001 after a conversation with his wife Lisa, an elementary school principal. Up to this point, the common response to an active shooter was to lockdown the building and gather people in a locked room while awaiting police.

The high number of people killed and wounded in several school incidents brought into question why lockdown was the only option. Crane began developing additional strategies, and the ALICE program was born.

Many Auburn town employees did classroom sessions early last week, and a live exercise was conducted on Friday. Town hall was closed at 10:00am, and warning signs were placed at

Charlton puts his arm inside a barricaded door, and employees inside removed the gun from his grip. ©John R. Anderson

Charlton puts his arm inside a barricaded door, and employees inside removed the gun from his grip. ©John R. Anderson

every entrance. Fire Chief Stephen Coleman, also the town’s safety officer, and Police Sergeant Ken Charlton led the session with about 40 in attendance. Coleman said Auburn is the first Massachusetts’ community to do a live exercise in its town hall.

Town Hall employees moved to their normal work areas while employees from other town locations also stayed in the building. Charlton played the role of an active shooter and was armed with a starter’s pistol that only fired blanks and an airsoft pistol.

During the first scenario, workers locked down in the building. As Charlton moved through the building, he opened doors and found people huddled in rooms. By my count 10-11 people were “shot” in this exercise. Their only notification was the very real gun shot sounds.

In the second scenario, workers were to evacuate the building. Here, 7-8 were “shot” including several that were caught coming down the main staircase.

In the third, workers barricaded themselves in and were allowed to Counter the assailant. This got very creative as Charlton was hit with a coatrack in one room, covered with a jacket and tackled in another, sprayed with silly string to simulate mace, and even had a weapon pulled from his hand. Only a single person was “shot.”

Sergeant Charlton, acting as an active shooter, fires on employees trying to exit town hall. ©John R. Anderson

Sergeant Charlton, acting as an active shooter, fires on employees trying to exit town hall. ©John R. Anderson

In the final exercise, all five strategies were allowed and the gunman’s movements were also put over the telephone system. Again, there was only a single shooting. Charlton commented, “The ‘informed’ piece is a game changer.”

This training showed that multiple options reduced the number of victims, and the employees got to think about and exercise their options in real time. Charlton said, “People get to make sound decisions based on available information. No one solution is the best.”

Although many employees were apprehensive about the live training, they all appeared more comfortable as time went on. Charlton said, “People have to know it’s OK to do something.”

The School Safety Team, organized by Superintendent Maryellen Brunelle, has been training with ALICE for over three years, and the concepts will be fully implemented in all Auburn Schools by next fall.

Coleman said when Auburn attends training; they are the only district to show up with a multi-discipline team including fire, police, and educators. Coleman summarized, “We have to be prepared.”

We all hope none of this training will be needed in our community, but it is certainly better to be ready.