What if’ questions drive QCSD safety discussion

What if … you’re a teacher in the hall­way and you hear some­thing that sounds like glass break­ing.? What do you do? 

What if … you’re a school nurse and you hear stu­dents run­ning down a hall­way shout­ing? What do you do?

What if … you’re a cafe­te­ria work­er and you hear what could be gun­shots, but the sound is sim­i­lar to the kitchen appli­ances you hear every­day? What do you do? 

These are the types of sce­nar­ios giv­en to those who attend­ed an ALICE table­top exer­cise Thursday after­noon at Quakertown Community High School. Bucks County Emergency Management offi­cials teamed up with QCSD lead­ers in drills designed to help high school employ­ees react to an aggres­sive intrud­er or active shooter. 

ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate. It is designed to help indi­vid­u­als han­dle a phys­i­cal threat. It’s one of sev­er­al forms of train­ing staff has under­gone as the dis­trict seeks to be proac­tive in find­ing ways to improve the safe­ty of stu­dents and employees.

The ALICE phi­los­o­phy, which the dis­trict adopt­ed and began imple­ment­ing in the sum­mer of 2015, is to use tech­nol­o­gy and infor­ma­tion in a way that staff and stu­dents can make informed deci­sions in a cri­sis, remove as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble from the dan­ger zone, and pro­vide real­is­tic train­ing so those involved in a cri­sis have a bet­ter chance of sur­viv­ing. Students in each grade receive some form of training.

High school Assistant Principal Jason Magditch, School Resource Officer Bob Lee and Social Studies teacher Sean Burke spent four months help­ing design the drill. It was facil­i­tat­ed by Mr. Magditch, Scott Forster, Bucks County’s Director of Emergency Services, and Richard Vona, the county’s direc­tor of law enforce­ment training.

Ten school employ­ees, most of them teach­ers, vol­un­teered for the after-school event. Also attend­ing were Assistant Superintendent Nancianne Edwards, the district’s Safety Coordinator, and Amy Harwick, a mem­ber of the Parent-Community School Safety Committee. The Committee, which has been meet­ing for sev­er­al months, is sched­uled to present its rec­om­men­da­tions to enhance school safe­ty to the Quakertown Community School Board on March 28.

During Thursday’s 90-minute exer­cise, which includ­ed a video cre­at­ed by Lincoln Kaar’s video pro­duc­tion stu­dents, the atten­dees were asked a series of ques­tions about how they would react to dif­fer­ent types of threats. After they respond­ed, no one said “right” or “wrong.” Because, as the facil­i­ta­tors said, there are no right or wrong answers.  “We great­ly appre­ci­ate the will­ing­ness of our staff mem­bers to par­tic­i­pate in this kind of table top sce­nario. Part of the val­ue of these exer­cis­es is in increas­ing our staff’s con­fi­dence and sense of empow­er­ment to act if they see or hear some­thing hap­pen­ing that is sus­pi­cious. We would much rather have a dozen alerts that end up being noth­ing than one real sit­u­a­tion that we fail to react to quick­ly enough,” said Nancianne Edwards.

There’s no plan that’s got to be etched in stone,” Mr. Vona said. “Plan before you need it. Think about these things. Plan before it hap­pens. The idea is to have options and ideas. We call it the what-if game? If this hap­pens, what would I do? Play that game. Plan before you need it.”

Following the pro­gram, Mr. Magditch said he heard sev­er­al things will help the school con­tin­ue to become safer.

SRO Lee and Mr. Burke, for exam­ple, have been meet­ing with stu­dents who sign up for their ALICE counter train­ing course dur­ing their Pride peri­ods. “We want to help stu­dents reduce their own fears and build con­fi­dence,” SRO Lee said.