It has been six months since Adam Lanza forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and gunned down 20 first and second graders and six teachers. While the country continues to engage in a heated debate about the impact of guns in society and the Second Amendment, teachers and administrators at Lehman’s Child Care Center are finding ways—big and small—to increase safety awareness and preparedness.
On the day of the shooting, Jaci Maurer, director of the Child Care Center, took calls from parents anxious about the Center’s ability to protect their children. Teachers also worried that there was no place to hide. In its current location in the T-3 Building, the Center occupies a narrow section of the first floor and its first and only line of defense is the front door, which is locked at all times and visitors must be buzzed in.
To assuage her own fears and that of her teachers, Maurer invited Fausto Ramirez, assistant director of Lehman’s Department of Public Safety, and two of his sergeants, Samuel Gonzalez and Angel Irizariz, to give the teachers a few tips on protecting themselves. Lucky for the Lehman staffers, Sgt. Gonzalez and Sgt. Irizariz had recently traveled to North Andover, M.A., where they underwent training in a critical incident program dubbed ALICE—Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate, which teaches people how to react to a hostile intruder or active shooter. The pair is now the only individuals in the New York City area who are nationally certified ALICE instructors.
During the safety workshop at Lehman, Sgt. Gonzalez and Sgt. Irizariz simulated an attack in which teachers learned how to react to a hostile intruder. In the scenario, Ramirez served as the intruder and was asked to wait outside for a signal while the two sergeants prepped the teachers.
The teachers were instructed to look around the room and use everything—from chairs to blocks and other hard toys—at their disposal to distract and disarm their attacker. When Ramirez finally entered the space, he was pelted with enough objects—in this case, soft toys—to make him abandon his mission and flee.
“In most cases, if victims put up even the slightest of resistance, including locking themselves in a room, a shooter will more likely move on to the next target,” explains Sgt. Gonzalez.
“The effect of the workshop is that we no longer felt helpless. We felt empowered,” says Maurer. “This training really opened our eyes and helped us think differently about our environment, and not just when we’re here, but anywhere.”
The workshop and attack simulation were so popular among the staff that Maurer invited Ramirez and his team to her monthly director’s meeting to deliver a presentation on responding to an active shooter. Sergeants Gonzalez and Irizariz have since gone on to conduct safety seminars around New York City.
“The training [we underwent] was very intense,” says Sgt. Gonzalez. “We went through several simulated scenarios, which really helped to crystallize the necessity of this type of training in workplace environments.”
“In many cases, there is no pattern or method to the selection of victims by an active shooter,” explains Sgt. Irizariz. “These situations are by their very nature unpredictable and evolve quickly.”
Back at Lehman, the two sergeants will continue to hold periodic safety drills for teachers and staff of the Child Care Center, which is preparing for its move to its new location on Goulden Avenue between Shuster and Davis Halls this fall.
The Center’s new home will boast six classrooms and a multipurpose room that can function as a playroom, after-school space, or additional classroom, providing that much more space and opportunities to activate safety measures.