VERMILION — For years schools have adopted the same types of protocols to deal with tornadoes as they used to confront armed gunmen: duck and cover.
In recent decades, however, “active shooters” have become more frequent at schools. In response, law enforcement officials have supported new strategies to increase the likelihood of survival for students and school staff.
One of the most widely adopted protocols is “ALICE” training, an acronym that stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate.
Two upcoming sessions will give interested community residents, school staffers, business owners or church leaders the basic tools to adopt ALICE into their own emergency protocols, said Vermilion Patrolman Brian Beckwith, the city’s school resource officer.
Beckwith trained full-time school staff in ALICE last year, but he wanted to open it up this year to anyone in the community for a very specific reason: Armed suspects shooting into a crowd happen most often when there are a large number of “soft targets.” Civilians, in other words.
“And where do you have the largest number of soft targets? School plays in the auditorium. Football games. Churches,” Beckwith said.
ALICE protocols teach very basic, and arguably instinctual, reactions.
“Instead of training out humans’ natural instinct to survive, we’ve got to be reinforcing those,” Beckwith said. “Think about it from a predator’s perspective. If an older squirrel taught a younger squirrel to curl under a desk and hold his arms in and just wait — that makes no sense in terms of survival. But this is what we train people to do.”
The ALICE method starts with the “alert” — whatever notifies you that something is wrong, whether it’s an announcement, people fleeing, or a gunshot.
“Lockdown” is the first response — secure yourself. If you are in a safe zone far from the danger area, then flee. If you’re in the immediate area of an active shooter and cannot flee, lock yourself in a room.
“The average assailant will not spend more than seven to 10 seconds messing with a locked door. He’ll move on,” Beckwith said.
The third step is “inform” — which means notifying 911 as quickly as possible. Earlier protocols often skipped this step, but minutes count, Beckwith said.
Statistically, police show up seven to 11 minutes into an attack — but most attacks end about the five-minute mark, he said. “Half the time, we’re not showing up until the shooter either flees or takes his own life.”
It is the fourth step — “counter” — that has been most controversial in news reports. Counter teaches the people on-hand — often schoolchildren — to fight back in an attempt to slow down, distract and disable an attacker.
The goal is not making children responsible for taking down an armed assailant, but rather making his aim less sure.
Researchers realized the targets weren’t moving around. They weren’t fleeing, or throwing things, or running around. This lesson was learned after the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, when 10 people were killed while trying to take shelter under desks in the library.
Countering could include throwing whatever people have on hand — every student in Vermilion has a laptop, for instance, Beckwith said.
The last step — “evacuate” — is always ideal, if possible.
“Get out by any means possible. If you have to counter while evacuating, then that’s the option to take,” Beckwith said. “We’re not teaching our kids the correct method. If a person’s natural instinct is to run, maybe that’s what you need to do.”
ALICE Training Institute has been endorsed by several federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Education. It was developed by a police chief with emergency response training who was married to a school superintendent, who realized protocols in schools were not giving staff or students the skills they needed to avoid tragic outcomes.
Beckwith stresses this training “is not about putting the burden of stopping a shooter or saving lives strictly on support staff or untrained civilians.”
“The biggest overall point is this: If it does happen, I want the people attending my class to have the highest survival probability,” he said. “If we could save lives with it, that makes all the difference.”
ALICE active-shooter training will be presented in two sessions, 9 to 11 a.m. Aug. 17 and 4 to 6 p.m. Aug. 18 at Vermilion High School, 1250 Sanford St., Vermilion. The classes are free and open to anyone interested, including groups, churches, businesses or school employees and parents. For information and to let planners know how many to expect, indicate interest at the event’s Facebook page, ALICE Active Shooter Training.
Contact Rini Jeffers at 329-7155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.