Active shooters in schools: An options-based active-shooter policy for schools
ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate
I’m not talking about guns in the hands of vetted, volunteer adult sheepdogs — I’m talking about sneakers on the feet of our sheep — our scared little school kids.
I’m talking here about the logic — or lack thereof — of defenseless innocents staying silently still while a dealer of death and destruction stalks them.
If You’re Not Shooting, ALICE…
There’s an old adage that states, “If you’re not shooting, you should be reloading. If you’re not reloading, you should be moving. If you’re not moving, you’re probably dead.”
I would bet that just about every cop in America who has kids has had a conversation along these lines:
“If you ever see someone other than daddy, mommy, or one of our police officer friends who has a gun, you need to run. Fast. Okay?”
You have kids and you haven’t had that discussion? Stop reading right now and talk with your kids.
You have had that conversation? Keep reading, and when you’re done, talk with your kids’ school administrators.
Five days after the unspeakable horror at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I happened along a news item about the Cincinnati (Ohio) Police Department using something called the ALICE Response Program to keep kids safe in school.
Soon thereafter I was speaking with Greg Crane, the founder of the ALICE program, which has been instructed at more than 300 school districts in the decade since its inception in 2002.
“I was a SWAT officer in the 90s, and we were training our butts off for a school shooter. Then, Columbine happened. That was a slap of realty: ‘Guys, you’re not going to get there in time,’” Crane told me when we spoke yesterday.
Back then — and still today in too many places — the only planned response in a school’s policy handbook is some form of lockdown.
Crane turned to his wife — an elementary school principal — and asked her what she and her colleagues were taught to do if lockdown wasn’t applicable/feasible or if a previously-secure area was breached?
Her reply: “Sit there and wait until the good guys get there.”
Dissatisfied with that as a fully-fleshed-out emergency-response plan, Crane went in search of an options-based response plan. Having not found one to his liking, he created the ALICE Program.
ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate. Here’s a précis:
1.) Alert — Call 911
Don’t assume others are contacting law enforcement. Give as clear and accurate information as possible that will answer the vital questions of who, what, when, where, and how (at this point, Crane says, we don’t care why).
2.) Lockdown — Shelter in Place
By locking down and barricading entry points, you are making yourself a hard target. Locked down does not mean locked in. You may choose to barricade the door and exit out windows to safety.
3.) Inform — Constant, Real-time Updates
This can be accomplished with things such as video surveillance equipment or public address systems. Information updates during a violent intruder incident allows occupants to make sound decisions about how to react and what steps — if any— to take next.
4.) Counter the Attack — A Last Resort
When other options are not immediately possible — a locked/lockable door does not exist, or the intruder breaches a secured room — move, make noise, and get distraction devices (anything at hand) in the air and heading for the shooter’s face. Then you may attack or evacuate the area.
5.) Evacuate — Get Out!
Your goal here is to put as much time and distance as possible between you and the attacker.
Please know that although the letters A-L-I-C-E may appear to be sequential steps to follow, they are not. The acronym is merely a mnemonic to help people under stress to remember the options available to them in an active-shooter scenario.
Learning From History
“Go back to Columbine,” Crane explained. “Why did those students sit in that library for five minutes before they were shot?”
They had a way out of that library, but a policy and a procedure — and the training given to Patti Nielson, a teacher and a hall monitor at Columbine High — dictated that they stay there.
“They stayed there five minutes too long,” Crane said.
“We typically see in these events people who end up basically disobeying the lockdown strategy. We saw it last week in Connecticut — 6-year-old kids running out of the building. Where is that included in a lockdown procedure?”
A Box Full of Options
When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When all you have is a policy of “lockdown, shelter in place, and wait for the cavalry to arrive,” then an active killer may be given the tactical advantage merely by default policy.
We need a fully-outfitted toolbox of options.
Crane’s system acknowledges that there is no on-size-fits all strategy, and that teachers, administrators, students (and in the case of corporate environments, employers and employees) be given an options-based plan from which a situationally-sound solution can be drawn.
If all we tell people do to — and in many cases what we make them do — is to sit under a desk or in cower a corner, what are we really doing to mitigate the chances of an accurate shot by an active killer?
Why is it that when we have a natural killer like fire do we tell our kids to get out in an quick but orderly fashion, but when we have a human killer like a merciless predator prowling the hallways of their school, we tell them to stay perfectly still?
“Why,” asks Crane, “is that fundamental baseline response to danger different? Look at the conversations we have with very young children in ‘stranger danger training.’ None of that is ‘be passive, be static, be quiet…’
“Why,” asks Crane, “when we bring a very high level of danger into a school building in the form of a shooter — instead of a predator on the street — we tell them they have to be passive and static and quiet?”
Logical Solutions to Illogical Problems
Crane pointed out that at times like these, the C in “ALICE” gets all the attention. “Fighting back is what everyone wants to talk about, but Countering can be a lot of things — noise, movement, distractions — that makes the active killer’s job more difficult.”
Secure in place works when no contact with the active killer is made. When contact with the active killer is made, that strategy — and perhaps all the people in the room — probably have to go right out the window.
It’s no secret that I support law enforcement firearms training for vetted, volunteer civilians, but at the same time I don’t think there is any one answer to this problem of active killers in schools. Dan Marcou, Dick Fairburn, Glenn French, and myriad others have suggested sound strategies. I think ALICE also bears consideration.
As the saying goes, “When seconds count, cops are mere moments away.”
Doesn’t it make sense that schools have a somewhat more sophisticated policy in place than essentially playing hide-and-seek with active killers? I think so.
Check out these videos about the ALICE Program, and add your thoughts in the comments area below.
Stay safe my friends.
About the author
Doug Wyllie is Editor in Chief of PoliceOne, responsible for setting the editorial direction of the website and managing the planned editorial features by our roster of expert writers. In addition to his editorial and managerial responsibilities, Doug has authored more than 600 feature articles and tactical tips on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), and an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association. He is also a member of the Public Safety Writers Association, and is a two-time (2011 and 2012) Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” Finalist in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. Even in his “spare” time, he is active in his support for the law enforcement community, contributing his time and talents toward police-related charitable events as well as participating in force-on-force training, search-and-rescue training, and other scenario-based training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.