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:

  1. The shooter will always have the element of surprise.
  2. 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.

34 Responses to ALICE in Gunnerland: Why Lockdowns Fail

  1. Stay is only good when Go is no better and vice versa.

    Both ‘solutions’ ignore the real problem, and that is that no one can protect you on the individual level, and even prison security is relegated to the “ride it out, we’ll regain control when they get tired and hungry” routine.

    Schools are not safe, if someone tries to convince you otherwise, meet them at the school, and kick them in the junk.

    • Lol! While I know you meant that to be ironic, it really would be a tangible example of how *Reality* and their *Perception* do not agree, and as Phillip Dick famously noted:

      “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away”

    • This.

      They need to do “something”. Using a catchy acronym that the kids can shout at a school assembly makes everyone happy.

  2. I find it interesting that the wizards of edumacation choose to adopt the term – “lockdown” – a word that one more commonly associates with that of a prison population. Given the state of our schools, maybe the term is entirely appropriate? If it’s a lock(and load)down, I can support that line of thinking.

    • Where is the acronym in that? When you attempt to explain your plan to powers that be, you’ll be finished before they finish sitting down, obviously the real answer couldn’t be that easy, we would look like we’d been fools for 40 years!

  3. As I mentioned in another response, not all teachers are wusses. Some are veterans. I bet some are former police. If they were armed, and trained with the SRO’s and community LEO’s, how many school shootings would be attempted much less go past the crazoid’s first shot? In my daughter’s former high school, infested with gang bangers as it was, the female principal (at the time) did a running tackle to break up a fight. Wound up breaking her arm. Give that lady a taser and a pistol, let the guy who was a retired military officer and the JROTC advisor train her, and let’s see the gang boys pee in their pants.

  4. The school lockdown seems like something you do at home to avoid unwanted guests, I doubt turning off the lights during the school day is really going to trick an armed intruder

  5. Instead of ALICE, I prefer STB — Shoot The Bastard. And a lockdown? It’s the ultimate tactic to assure that people are herded into nice, tight groups, assuring the maximum body count with the minimum expenditure of time, effort and ammo.

  6. In case an armed intruder appears at a school, a Bert the Turtle Civil Defense Film should be shown immediately and everyone should duck and cover under a newspaper. The armed intruder should be encouraged to participate in the Civil Defense drill for total village safety.

    • Better than huddling in a group trapped in a classroom. It is exceptionally hard, especially after an adrenaline dump, to hit a moving target with a pistol.

  7. There are a couple of things you can do within the current definition of ALICE:

    Build a better barricade than furniture. If the door opens inward, make a wedge out of a wide piece of lumber with tacky rubber around one end. The rubber goes on the floor and the other end under the door knob. If the door opens outward, make a bar that spans the doorway and hooks over the door knob. A still better barricade would be a household dead bolt with a handle on the inside and a keyhole on the outside but that’s something that would have to be installed by the school system.

    If the shooter gets into the classroom, think of him as a target to be taken out. All too often we hear of teachers who use their own bodies as shields. Although heroic, this is futile. The shooter kills them and then goes on to kill the children they tried to protect. Instead, attack the shooter with everything available. Thrown books can be a fleeting distraction but won’t put him down. That requires injuring him so badly he can no longer function. Despite all the restrictions, there are still objects in the classroom that can be very nasty improvised weapons. Used forcefully, a pen or pencil can rupture an eyeball or crush the shooter’s larynx. If there is a fire extinguisher in the room, spray him in the face with the contents then shatter his skull with the case.

  8. How do THEY counter? OH thats right with GUNS!!!! In Jurassic Park 2 he said “you are a buffet”. An armed intruder is in a “KILL” zone/hallway. He has no place to hide and a hail of bullets down a hallway will ricochet of the walls and and probably do the job. ALICE is STUPID. When the politicians children do NOT have armed guards then they can speak. The 2nd Amendment was put into the Constitution so the people could protect themselves from a corrupt government. No double standards put DC politicians on Obamacare and SS.Thanks for your support and vote.Pass the word. mrpresident2016.com

    • “a hail of bullets down a hallway will ricochet of the walls”

      Bullets go through walls. A pistol round can penetrate four sheets of drywall.

      • I’ve never seen a school with drywall corridors, they are generally cinderblock, and a bullet impacting at a steep angle will, in fact, ricochet off down the hall.

  9. If you hide the gun, so the police can’t see it, then, can’t they arrest you for tampering with evidence? WTF is that about?

  10. Our lockdown guaranteed I’d die. To lock the classroom, I had to go into the hallway, lock the door and return to the classroom. As I had windows that opened onto the hallway, I had to tape paper over the windows. This involved standing on the counter right in front of the window. Then it was pull the shades on the outside windows, and finally email the front office with who was in my class.
    To get a handle on how serious the district was, a was told to use scrap paper to cover the windows. Never use fresh paper. I tried hard to get blinds to replace the paper and was told that there was no money.
    Of the 80 some staff, there were two of use that were retired military and one regular hunter. The rest I wouldn’t trust with a nail file.

    • Icabod,

      What stops you from keeping a handgun in a location in your classroom where students will never find it? It wouldn’t do much good if a spree killer happened to start their attack in your classroom, but otherwise it would be immensely helpful of course.

      And what stops your students from being able to promptly pile all of their desks, chairs, and tables in front of the door? What stops you from keeping a box of rocks (all about tennis ball size) in your classroom that your students could throw at an attacker? What stops you from keeping four cans of wasp spray (the kind that shoots over 20 feet) in your classroom? What stops you from keeping a two fire extinguishers in your classroom? (The wasp spray and fire extinguishers can blind and/or disorient your attacker from several feet away.)

      As for funding those items, you would purchase your own handgun with your own money if the school endorsed it, right? If you are willing to pay between $300 and $700 for a handgun, why are you unwilling to pay between $10 and $40 for some rocks, wasp spray, and fire extinguishers?

      As for covering your windows, spend $10 on a couple reams of 11×17 paper and have your students make art or poems or political statements or something else educational on the paper and affix that to your windows.

      I know that being armed is ideal. Even if you were armed, these additional measures are still a great idea. Make it happen. No one is stopping you.

  11. It should be EACLI (Evacuate, Alert, Counter, Lockdown, Inform).

    Interestingly, I got in an internet-based discussion with a fellow who claimed (probably truthfully) to be a government agent trained in responding to active shooters. It become quite clear that much of the advice given to building occupants about how to deal with an active shooter, including ALICE, prioritizes making the first responders’ jobs easier over saving the most occupants’ lives. Among the first responders’ “jobs,” is catching the shooter if he tries to escape. Among the higher priorities, is making target identification easier for the first responders. Think how much easier it is for a first responder to deal with a shooter if the shooter is the only person moving around in the building.

    Some of this boils down to perspective. We tend to think of active shooter scenarios in terms of how can I save myself and my family. First responders can’t approach an active shooter this way.

    ALICE was created in collaboration with law enforcement. I believe ALICE is an attempt to strike a balance between the “save yourself” approach and an approach based on making things as easy as possible for first responders.

    As for me, I’m getting out of the kill zone ASAP. In my opinion, first responders need to alter their training and tactics so they can deal with a more “dynamic” environment. If that means taking more time to figure out whether somebody, including an armed somebody in street clothes, is the active shooter before sending rounds at them, then take the time. It might mean bullets come the first responders’ way, but I think that’s better than telling people to become fish in a barrel.

    • I see your point and it makes total sense.

      I think the reality of most situations seriously undermines the law enforcement position. Remember, spree killers almost universally want to wrack up the highest possible body count and die (usually of a self-inflicted gunshot wound) on site. The overwhelming majority of spree killers therefore will NOT stop attacking and run out of the school in an attempt to blend in with escaping students and escape themselves. Rather, the overwhelming majority of spree killers are going to keep on trying to kill as many people as possible whether their pool of victims is huddling in a corner or running across a gymnasium.

      This being the case, law enforcement officers who respond to a spree killer should have a fairly easy time concretely identifying the spree killer because the spree killer is the individual who is going around trying to kill people. In other words, the “shoot, don’t shoot” decision for law enforcement officers is just as easy as it is for armed staff, parents, and visitors … don’t shoot someone unless that person is indescriminately attacking everyone else.

  12. I went to an ALICE seminar for the schools in my community. It is a really good starting point. People of the gun already know the weaknesses even with the ALICE program. Nevertheless, ALICE is a cataclysmic shift in perspective for Progressives. Remember, the prevailing Progressive perspective was, “Oh, school attacks never happen and even if one did, all we have to do is sit and wait for someone else to deal with it.” Now, ALICE has changed the perspective to, “If a school attack happens, we have to actively deal with it.”

    That shift in perspective alone is immensely beneficial. Now the discussion revolves around what active measures school staff and students should enact. And that, my friends, is the opening we need to share our wisdom on the matter.

  13. I told my Grandsons if there is ever a problem, ignore the teacher and go out the window. Better a broken ankle than a bullet. If they are in a hallway or other location where they can’t escape, grab a FIRE EXTINGUISHER and use it as a defensive weapon if at all possible. A dry chemical fire extinguisher can be a great defensive weapon that no one talks about.

  14. While we recognize the weaknesses of ALICE, I want to point out two significant strengths that many are overlooking. Even if all schools, businesses, and society embraced concealed carry with open arms, the fact of the matter is that only a few percent of staff, parents, and visitors at schools and businesses would be armed for various reasons — including apathy, inconvenience, discomfort (schlepping around a heavy awkward handgun), etc. Therefore, there is a significant probability that there will be no armed adults in the vicinity where a spree killer starts their attack in a school. And that means the spree killer will be able to operate without ballistic resistance quite possibly until police arrive on scene.

    Given this reality, teaching people to evacuate or harden their positions is absolutely sound tactical instruction. Locking a door has limited value. But piling up desks and chairs in the doorway is a HUGE obstacle that all but guarantees the people in the room can successfully incapacitate the spree killer with improvised melee weapons — or that the spree killer simply moves on. Both outcomes are good outcomes. And even if the spree killer somehow makes it through the barricade and kills everyone in the room anyway, it will have taken MUCH longer and that alone will reduce the ultimate casualty count.

    Teaching people who are outgunned to evacuate or to harden their positions and counterattack is excellent. Remember, a single adult armed with a handgun is seriously outgunned when facing just two attackers with long guns and minimal training/coordination. Even in that scenario, the wisest course of action for the lone defender is to evacuate or at least to harden their position before preparing to counterattack.

  15. Didn’t read the article, yet, but wanted to comment on the video. I’m glad to see this video, and the one for retailers, are telling the victims to get weapons and fight back. I know the adage is “only a good guy with a gun,” but the reality seems to be: only a person wiling to defend themselves from deadly force with equal or greater force – or whatever means available.

    I think we need more of this, and to reinforce the idea that we don’t have to be victims, that we can defend ourselves.

  16. First, the suggestion should include checking for other threats, once the first one is down. Second, the only way to accomplish the needed arming of educators is to *require* it as a term of employment, wherein if you are not armed when the need arises, you will have your butt sued off, as opposed to vice-versa. Which will simultaneously rid our schools of the panty-wetting whiners camping out there now.

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