Andover High School is moving to replace its current emergency action plan with a more advanced and protective one. But due to the need to train employees — even administrators and safety personnel — the change may be more than a year away, Dr. Lord said.

Once the switch is made, the school’s current “Shelter-in-Place” procedure will no longer be mandatory for students and staff to perform during an emergency. Instead, if an active shooter were to make their way into AHS, those inside the building will be instructed to evacuate, barricade doors, hide, or even fight back.

Pegging doors, as shown here, creates a security breach that could allow an intruder access to the school. (Photo by Alison Murtagh)
Pegging doors, as shown here, creates a security breach that could allow an intruder access to the school. (Photo by Alison Murtagh)

The new program, known as “ALICE,” offers students and faculty multiple ways to react if ever there were an intruder in the building. ALICE, which stands for Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate, is currently practiced in 300 schools nationwide and is rapidly expanding, according to the ALICE Training Institute.

The ALICE procedure is not sequential. School Resource Officer Dowd explained how the program works: “Basically what ALICE is, is it just gives you options. If you think shelter in place is the best thing for you to do, then you still do that. If you want to evacuate, or if you think your classroom is right next to a door and you don’t hear anything and you can evacuate, you evacuate. If the person comes in your door and you have a bust of Sir Isaac Newton that you can throw at him, then you do that. It basically just gives everybody the option of doing what is best, instead of just sitting in a room and waiting.”

When asked, many students confessed they did not know what they would do if an active shooter were to enter the building. Other responses varied. Owen Meech, a junior, said, “I would find the nearest exit and run.”

On the other hand, Jason Aronov, a sophomore, said he would “probably stay in the room and lock all the doors.”

The bottom line is students have received limited instruction on how to be prepared to react in a situation if one like that of Newtown or Columbine were to happen here at AHS.

“What they taught us to do is to just get in a corner, and take cover, but that wouldn’t even attempt to do anything,” explained junior Kristin Pettini.

Many students could not recall the last time the school participated in a formal lockdown drill.

According to Officer Dowd, “The last time we had a shelter in place drill was last year, and it was when the dogs were brought in. We had the dogs go through and just sniff at the lockers, but we combined it with a shelter in place drill and it was relatively horrendous.”

Teachers allowed students to go into the halls and to the bathroom—activities that are not permitted during a lockdown procedure.

Many members of the faculty are in agreement that it is time for a new crisis plan to be implemented in the high school.

Ms. Masters, a history teacher, shared her opinion on the proposed change: “I have heard about ALICE but not how it applies to Andover High School. I have colleagues in other districts who have adopted ALICE—North Andover, Reading, North Reading—and they seem to think it’s feasible because it gives teachers the opportunity to make decisions for themselves and their classes.”

In an emergency, teachers are responsible for all of the students in their class at the time, whether they’re in the hallway, the cafeteria, or in the classroom. There are emergency evacuation routes indicated on the doorways of every class. Not all members of the faculty are teaching every block of the day though, leaving some concerned about the vagueness of the crisis plan.

“There are some inconsistencies of what’s supposed to happen,” said Mrs. Haltmaier, a math teacher, “particularly for teachers who are not in the classroom if an emergency were to occur.”

According to the FBI and Justice Department, the number of mass murders and attempted mass murders in the United States has tripled since 2008. On Wednesday, a 12-year-old boy shot two students in his middle school in Roswell, New Mexico. In December, a senior boy shot a fellow classmate in Centennial, Colorado.

Many people think a similar tragedy could never happen in an affluent suburb like Andover. According to Officer Dowd, “Unfortunately anything of any type could happen anywhere. It’s not like these things are just happening in big cities.”

It is vital that every member of the AHS community help to keep the school safe. Dowd said, “One of the biggest problems is, unfortunately people let other people in from different doors, or they peg doors so they can get in later on because they snuck out. Those are huge security breeches because if a monitor doesn’t find that door for twenty minutes, that’s twenty minutes where that door can be utilized by whoever decides to come in here.”

 By Alison Murtagh