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Bethel Park school board approves ALICE safety program

| Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

What played out in 2007 at Virginia Tech paints a clear picture of how to counter a mass shooting, says Bethel Park police Officer Scott Zinsmeister: don't be passive, as students who dropped to the ground suffered more casualties than those who tried to flee.

That's why Zinsmeister, a school resource officer, and James Modrak, a former Bethel Park police officer who now is a school district police officer, urged the school board to approve a training program that emphasizes an active response to intruders.

The board approved the ALICE program in an 8-0 vote on Tuesday, with Ron Sustich absent.

ALICE, developed by a former Texas police officer, stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate.

“We don‘t want to sit there and be passive targets anymore,” Modrak said. “It is no longer the standard.”

Participating school districts include Keystone Oaks, Brentwood and Connellsville.

Officer Joe Kozarian, an armed school resource officer employed by the Brentwood district, said he was certified in ALICE two years ago and recently starting relaying the program to teachers.

Kozarian is director of the National Association of School Resource Officers' Region 3, which covers Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware and New Jersey.

Modrak and Zinsmeister said that during a training program at ALICE headquarters in Ohio, they learned to instruct staff and students about what to do if a shooting occurs. One key, Modrak said, is to evacuate.

At Virginia Tech, Seung-Hui Cho fatally shot 32 people and wounded 17 before committing suicide.

Modrak noted that in the 1999 shooting at Columbine High Schoolin in Colorado, many students hid in the library, even though they could have exited the building. Ten students died and 12 were wounded in that room.

The ALICE program expands the idea of “lockdown,” Modrak said. In addition to locking doors, people should barricade them with items.

Critics say ALICE encourages students to attack the attacker, but Zinsmeister disagrees.

“It is not about fighting; it is not about violence,” Zinsmeister said. “ALICE is not about aggression. It is about survivability.”

The “counter” portion of the program means distraction, Modrak said, such as throwing items at an attacker.

Modrak and Zinsmeister said the program takes into account students' ages and offers drills similar to regular fire drills.

The school district paid about $700 to train Modrakand Zinsmeiste, spokeswoman Vicki Flotta said. The district hopes to pay for training materials with grants, she said.

Staff writer Tory N. Parrish contributed to this article. Eric Eisert is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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