Reader Mr. B. writes:
I started teaching high school English in a new district this year. My school is located in a small town in the upper Great Plains, with a student population of around 500. Like every other school in this country, we have a system in place to deal with an armed intruder. Most of these systems are garbage, turning students and teachers into defenseless sitting ducks. My district’s policy is aligned with a program designed by the ALICE Training Institute. This is a step in the right direction, as the ALICE program teaches students to react differently to an active shooter than traditional lockdown plans, but it is still woefully inadequate as far as saving lives is concerned . . .
In response to an intruder, many schools’ policies dictate a lockdown. For those unaware, lockdown procedures consist of the following: lock the door to the classroom, turn off the lights, get away from doors and windows, and wait for police officers to clear the building. Every school in which I’ve been a student or teacher, excluding my current employer, has relied on the lockdown as the best response to danger.
Administrators go over the basics at the beginning of every year, practice it once or twice per semester and call it good. The main issue is that a school-wide (or district wide) lockdown is perhaps the laziest and least practical response to an armed threat.
The idea of a lockdown might look great on paper, but only if you reading with rose-colored glasses. Administrators and school boards see it as a one size fits all solution to any threat that could possibly happen in their school district. Or they are naïve enough to believe that a shooting probably won’t happen in their district, so they do not bother to bring about any real world solutions. The reality is that an active shooter situation is incredibly dynamic and impossible to predict, and if you keep students locked down in the classrooms without any way to defend them, you almost have a perfect recipe for murdered children. All you need is a dash of deranged human being and a pinch of incompetence. As has been proven time and again, particularly at Umpqua, a static response to an armed threat does not, and will not, stop a determined intruder.
Enter the ALICE program. The ALICE Training Institute teaches schools, business, hospitals, and other entities to be proactive in their response to an armed intruder. ALICE, if you haven’t already guessed, is an acronym and each letter stand for one of the five strategies of the ALICE program: Alert; Lockdown; Inform; Counter and Evacuate. These are each broken down to further explain each strategy:
- Alert – The purpose of ALERT is to notify as many people as possible within the danger zone that a potentially life threatening risk exists.
- Lockdown – The purpose of LOCKDOWN is to secure in place, and prepare to EVACUATE or COUNTER, if needed.
- Inform – The purpose of INFORM is to continue to communicate the intruder’s location in real time.
- Counter – The purpose of COUNTER is to interrupt the intruder and make it difficult or impossible to aim. This is a strategy of last resort.
- Evacuate – The purpose of EVACUATE is to remove yourself from the danger zone when it is safe to do so.
These strategies are a huge improvement compared to a traditional lockdown. They teach students and teachers to take control of the situation and be active in protecting themselves. In practical terms, the training is meant to make them prepared to do anything to survive by reacting to the specific threat at hand, particularly the proximity and immediacy of that threat.
We were trained that the five strategies should not necessarily be employed in order, but use them as the need arises. For example, if you have clear information that there is a shooter on the other end of a school, you should take your students out the nearest, safest exit and flee the area. However, if you hear gunshots down the hall and you do not have a clear path to a door, you should attempt to barricade your room as quickly and strongly as possible. And if for some reason the shooter does make his or her way into the classroom, students are trained to throw large and solid objects in an attempt to distract or hurt the shooter so that he or she may be overtaken. The variability of the ALICE system is nice. It allows teachers to make decision based on what will help their class survive.
But even though the ALICE program is an improvement, there are numerous downsides. The most glaring is that a gun in the hands of a deranged intruder is much more effective at killing students than a history book is at stopping bullets. The ALICE system that I was trained on does not take into account the possibility of an equally armed resistance to the active shooter. Police officers are mentioned, and students are taught how to interact with them in a crisis situation, but by the time they arrive on campus, 5-10 minutes will have passed and children will be dead.
I believe that the ALICE Training Institute is off to a great start in their attempts to make schools safer, yet the strategies only work to a degree. They leave so much to be desired in a defense scenario. The main fault is twofold:
- The shooter will always have the element of surprise.
- Teachers and students will always be outgunned.
There is not much that can be done about number one. If a person wants to cause harm, they will find a way, especially in public schools and other gun-free zones. The second part can be amended to provide protection and reduce casualties. (I say reduce, and not eliminate, because that is the reality. People will get hurt, but you can stop the destruction from continuing.)
The easiest and most effective way to reduce the number of dead children during an attack is to have equal or greater force to repel the attacker, and that force must be able to respond immediately. Allowing teachers or staff to be armed on campus, ready at a moment’s notice to protect the students, is our last best hope in decreasing student deaths during school shootings.
I propose a new set of words to complete the ALICE acronym, words that augment the training to truly protect student lives:
- Arm Yourself – Keep a firearm on your person, ready to use if the need should arise. Practice with your weapon until you are proficient, and then practice some more.
- Line of Sight – Know what is between you and your target, and what is beyond it. Keep the remainder of 4 Rules in mind as well.
- Incapacitate – Use whatever means necessary to remove the threat.
- Control – Stay calm. Don’t panic. Control the situation and be the leader that your students need.
- Engage – Be proactive and engage the target. Take out the threat before he or she can do more damage.
Of course, tremendous amounts training should be undertaken before this version of ALICE would be implemented. Teachers would need work closely with police officers and other first responders to develop strategies that are specific to each school district. I also think that students should be told that teachers are carrying firearms. This will make the program even more cohesive.
Many would probably say that these strategies will never come to fruition. “Teachers with guns? In schools? Everyday? Yeah, right. Good luck with that.” While I don’t expect it to happen anytime soon, I do hope that one day I will be able to carry my sidearm in the classroom. It is the best protection that I can provide for my students.