MARIETTA - Responding to the tragedy of Friday's mass school shooting, law enforcement agencies and school officials in Washington County reasserted that training and drills focused on armed gunman scenarios are no longer avoidable.
With 28 reported deaths, 20 of them children, Friday's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting in Newtown, Conn., was the second deadliest school shooting in national history, surpassed only by the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.
It was also the seventh school shooting of the year, the second at an elementary school.
"This is a sad state of affairs when you have to train your school staff and students for something like this," said Mark Warden, chief deputy for the Washington County Sheriff's Office.
But training for a shooter is exactly what schools have been doing. All schools in the county are mandated to complete yearly training for emergency scenarios and all schools in the county have complied, said Warden.
However, who is trained and how they are trained in different schools varies.
"Of course we do things differently at the elementary as opposed to the high school," said Belpre City Schools Superintendent Tony Dunn.
Namely, said Warden, training at the elementary level falls squarely on the shoulders of the staff. At the high school level, students are more engaged in the training.
Additionally, not all schools train based on the same method. Some local schools are still training based on a pure lockdown procedure, said Sgt. Rod Hupp of the Marietta Police Department.
"That is what everyone was taught, pretty much across the board, in the aftermath of Columbine," said Hupp.
Looking back on previous school shootings, a terrifying pattern has emerged where a shooter's apparent goal is to kill as many people as quickly as possible, said Warden.
The initial line of thinking was that an immediate lockdown would help school officials keep tabs on students and maintain accountability, said Hupp. However, that school of thought is changing, in part because it has been shown to be ineffective, he said.
Locking down simply makes all of the students more vulnerable, said Hupp.
"That sort of situation where kids are being corralled and held for maximum accountability are where we find the highest body counts," he said, pointing to the Virginia Tech shootings.
Like most schools, Belpre City Schools have traditionally practiced lockdowns, said Dunn. However, Belpre has been working with local law enforcement agencies to evolve its emergency plan to coincide with a new line of thought, he said.
"The newest theory of get as far away as you can is fairly new to us," he said.
That newest theory is the ALICE method, and it is one that both Hupp and Warden favor.
"I think what we are finding nationally and why ALICE is being enthusiastically embraced is because it is an alternative option to a program that has been an absolute failure. It's another option to the lockdown procedure," said Hupp.
ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate, and it is a much less passive way for individuals to escape a gunman or other dangerous encounter. It encourages constant communication - for example, announcing a gunman's location through the school's public address system. It also encourages people to evacuate and even fight back against the shooter as a last resort, said Warden.
"We have an ALICE policy and we certainly have gone over that with employees," said Marietta City Schools Superintendent Harry Fleming.
Hupp, along with Marietta Police Department Patrolman Pat Gragan, helped develop the program at Marietta High School this spring. Hupp added he would be glad to offer the training to schools outside of Marietta.
One of the more progressive implementations of the ALICE program happened in October at Warren High School, when the Washington County Sheriff's Office used one of its deputies to simulate an active shooter in the building and had students react accordingly, said Warden.
That training is also available to schools who request it, said Warden, and can be geared toward the entire school or simply the staff.
Principal Jane Frances Hofbauer of St. John Central Grade School said she recently had Warden come speak to her staff about "this new ALICE program we have heard so much about."
Warden also offered to come back and walk her staff through a shooting scenario.
"Now after this, I'm sure we are going to do it," said Hofbauer.
Hofbauer pointed out that her school takes many safety precautions, such as making visitors identify themselves before they are granted access to the school. However, that system was also in place at Sandy Hook Elementary, said Hofbauer, and proved that standard security measures are not enough.
"We are just going to have to be a lot more alert," she said.