Sophomores threw tennis balls at security guard Mark Geiger as he rushed into the classroom wearing a black padded suit and wielding a mock gun last Friday at an ALICE training session. The practice drill in how to react in the case of an on-campus shooter came the day after a student opened fire at Taft Union High School, which Harvard-Westlake has faced in athletic games, sending two students from the Kern County school to the hospital.
But in light of recent school shootings in Taft and at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Harvard-Westlake has not had to alter an already comprehensive program teaching students what to do in case of an armed intruder.
For the past three years, all sophomores have undergone ALICE training to prepare them for a scenario with a school shooter.
ALICE, which stands for Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate, was created by a former SWAT officer in response to ineffective passive lockdown procedures that led to casualties in past school shootings such as Columbine.
“When people don’t do anything, numbers [of casualties] is high,” Geiger said. “When someone steps up to make situation better numbers seem to be lower.”
Two dean groups at a time are brought into a simulated classroom near St. Michael’s church set up for ALICE training. All but the last two dean groups of this year’s sophomores have gone through the training this year.
As seventh graders, students are given a presentation on security, but it isn’t until tenth grade when students are allowed to go through simulations of an attack.
“The administration doesn’t want younger kids getting that into it,” Geiger said. “ALICE training teaches you guys that there’s an option. Sitting in a corner just doesn’t seem to work.”
During their training session, sophomores go through three scenarios to reinforce what they were taught as seventh graders.
The first scenario is a standard lockdown, in which the door is locked, the lights are turned off and everyone hides under their desk waiting for help. Geiger acts as an intruder and enters the classroom the students are helpless.
“It is pretty obvious that in a matter of minutes I could walk around the classroom and shoot everyone,” Geiger said.
In the second scenario, students are encouraged to yell and throw whatever is not nailed down. Students are taught that moving, making noise and throwing objects changes the attacker’s thought process, Geiger said. Unlike in the first scenario, within the first five minutes of the attack, someone else has his gun and he is on the ground with most of the class on top of him.
The third scenario is to be implemented in the case that there is not enough information to leave the classroom or the threat is right outside. Students are taught to barricade the door with everything they can, and get ready.
“It is very important to get information out there, and give you guys the option. Fighting is the last resort,” Geiger said. “We’d love for you to have enough information to runaway safely or the barricade door.”