SARANAC, Mich. (WOOD) — There was a time when fire and tornado drills were the scariest things students had to practice.
But times have changed.
“I mean, I've been worried about school shootings,” said Saranac High School School senior Katelynn Haskins. “But I didn't think my school would really have that happen. But it's always possible.”
Active shooter drills held this week at Saranac High are designed to bring that reality home.
“What if you hear this?” Ionia County Sheriff’s Lt. Andrew Bucholtz asked students as the sound of gunfire came from a hallway outside the classroom. “Let's go, let's go!”
The gunfire was actually created by a blank, shot off by a state trooper taking part in the drill.
The program is called ALICE, short for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Encounter and Evacuate.
“Get out! Absolutely. If you're not here, can he shoot you? Absolutely not. Get out. Evade, evacuate,” Bucholtz told students.
ALICE is an update to drills of the past that recognize simply locking a classroom door and shutting off the lights doesn't work in all active shooter situations.
“The students have often asked the questions about why we hide, why can't we run? Things like that,” said Saranac Jr./Sr. High School Principle Joshua Leader. “We were following what we thought was the appropriate guidance at the time.”
Past mass shootings at schools and other public locations show traditional lock downs work best when the shooter is outside the building.
But once inside a building, like a school, being locked in a room increases the chances those inside will become targets as gunmen go door to door.
“The concept is he'll pass you by. What do you guys think of that concept?” Bucholtz asked.
“No. Doesn't work.” was the answer.
Instead of hiding in the corner, students participating in ALICE are taught options: from escaping out a window, to barricading the door, to, as a last resort, fighting back all in an effort to cause enough distraction to slow the shooter down.
The scenarios are frightening. But they also provide a certain comfort level for students.
“This really helped me feel more confident and to help my classmates,” said Katelynn Haskins.
Students were also reminded about that many 911 centers, including Ionia, receive text messages. Those texts can provide crucial, yet silent suspect and victim information in an active shooter situation.
Some 400 Saranac 7th through 12th graders participated in the two-day program, which was a joint effort between Saranac Schools, the Ionia County Sheriff’s Department and the Michigan State Police.
School officials are working on a slightly different training program for elementary school students.