Bethel Park schools OK survival training

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Bethel Park school board has approved a program to teach students and staff survival skills to be used in dangerous situations.

The ALICE Training Institute, based in Medina, Ohio, provides instruction for schools, businesses, hospitals, places of worship and other entities on what to do if faced with armed intruders.

The school board voted Monday during a regular session.

"We've been fortunate in the South Hills not to have any issues, but we're not blind to say it can't happen here," said James Modrak, school police officer.

He and Scott Zinsmeister, a member of the Bethel Park Police Department who serves as school resource officer, gave a presentation prior to the board's vote about ALICE, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. It was founded in the aftermath of the 1999 tragedy at Columbine High School to increase preparedness for similar situations.

"The gist of this program is to minimize any potential victims," Mr. Modrak said, by changing the general mindset about how to deal with an active shooter.

Mr. Zinsmeister explained that statistics show the casualty rate is high for situations in which traditional "passive response strategies" are employed.

"Lockdown plays into what they're trying to accomplish," he said, noting that instructing potential victims to remain in place and hide makes them stationary targets. On the other hand, "active responses" involving evacuation or, as a last resort, countering the actions of a gunman can result in fewer people being injured or killed.

"There are ways of interrupting that shooter's mindset, delaying his actions," Mr. Zinsmeister said. "ALICE is not about aggression. It's about survivability."

He and Mr. Modrak, who attended two days of training in Ohio, plan to instruct district administrators, staff members and students through a curriculum developed by the institute.

The training is age-appropriate for each grade level, Mr. Zinsmeister explained, and provides for students to "rely more on their own judgment as they get older."

Younger students, though, are capable of making key decisions, according to Mr. Modrak. He cited the example of a 5-year-old who led classmates to safety during the December 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

"He was empowered," Mr. Modrak said. "He saved himself and two other kids."

Part of ALICE's emphasis is moving away from procedures in which potential victims must wait for instructions from a designated person of authority, who might not be entirely aware of the danger.

"This is about individual situational awareness and making your own choices about survivability," Mr. Zinsmeister said.

According to the ALICE Training Institute's website, more than 900 organizations have adopted the program, representing 1 million-plus people across the country.

The school board voted unanimously to bringn in the program as a proactive measure.

"It's scary, but it's necessary," board member Cindy Buckley said. "I'm glad to see we're moving in that direction."

Harry Funk, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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