Safety was a top priority in District 200 on Dec. 22. Students had a nonschool day so that staff could be trained in the ALICE model for responding to a violent threat. About 900 teachers, faculty and staff of District 200 attended the active shooter response training.

"I am 100 percent confident that the ALICE strategies that we trained our staff on today will help to ensure the safety of our kids now and in the future," said Hastings Middle School Principal Mark Zuzek.

ALICE stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate. The active shooter response training method provides instructor led classes that prepare individuals and organizations on how to more proactively handle the threat of an aggressive intruder or active shooter event. ALICE is approved by the Hastings Police Department, Dakota County Sheriff's Department, the Minnesota Department of Education, Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Zuzek said.

Last week's training day involved an overview PowerPoint presentation in the Hastings High School auditorium, two hours of scenario training, a break for lunch and then the staff went back to their separate locations for training within their own facilities.

David Bauer, school resource officer, said he thinks ALICE is far better than what they have been doing. Bauer was one of the leaders in the training at Hastings High School. He was educated on ALICE earlier in the year and helped organize the training for District 200.

"I honestly do believe it will save lives," Bauer said.

Bauer said the ALICE method is much more effective because it gives people the power to make the best decision for themselves.

The concepts of ALICE were practiced among staff during the scenario portion of the training day. Staff split up into groups of about 100 people. Each group went through several scenarios in which they had to react to an active shooter event. Nerf guns were used as weapons in the scenarios and safety glasses were used by everyone involved. Air horns were used to simulate a gun shot. After each scenario, the group came together for a debriefing and talked about what happened.

In the first scenario, staff was asked to use the traditional lockdown method which involves locking the door, turning off the lights and sheltering in the corner of the room. The doors were easily breached in this scenario and several people were hit by the nerf gun bullets. Helpless and vulnerable were two words staff members came up with to describe how they felt during the traditional lockdown scenario.

Zuzek said that historically the district has relied on a traditional lockdown. However, as horrific events have happened throughout the nation like Virginia Tech in 2007 or Sandy Hook in 2013, evidence has shown that having a multi-options approach is better.

The next few scenarios slowly added in options associated with the ALICE method. The second scenario allowed staff to barricade themselves in the classroom by putting furniture in front of the doors. The third scenario added in an evacuation as a possibility. It was during the evacuation scenario in which every person was out of harm's way before the simulated shooter arrived.

One of the components that makes the ALICE model a preferred method is the multi-options approach. ALICE is not a sequential method.

"The steps of the ALICE model are simply used for us to remember the five different elements, A-L-I-C-E (alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate)...depending on the situation, you might start with any of them," Zuzek said.

The ALICE method allows the person to make a decision on what element might be the best for them in their situation. Zuzek said that ALICE is a strategy in which students could use throughout their life in any situation whether it is an after school job, when they go to worship, or if they're at a mall or public event.

"This is a far better way to go because it doesn't rely on knowledge of your setting, doesn't rely on a lockable door, it doesn't rely on us being highly trained or being able to work as a team," Zuzek said.

Now that the staff is trained in the ALICE model, they will be able to instruct the students on the approach. The district said they will have a variety of drills and opportunities to practice the ALICE approach throughout the rest of the school year.