This review will be different from most of the other AARs John and I have written. Some backstory:
Regular readers of this blog should know by now that I am a special education teacher. The school where I currently work is a non-public special education facility. What this means is that we serve students with special needs from all of the surrounding school districts. In practice, this means that we serve those students the surrounding districts are not equipped to handle.
Last year, there was a changing of the guard at the top of the administration of this school, with a new executive director and a new principal coming on board. While the jury is still out among my peers about their leadership to date (educators hate change!), there is no doubt that their combined backgrounds in the public sector have them more willing than the old guard to put in place more “best practices”.
Immediately after the Parkland, Florida school shooting, an email was sent out by the principal that she was starting up a school safety committee. The purpose of this committee would be to identify the school’s needs in the area of security, particularly in light of the publicity of school shootings. I decided to go against my usual policy (never volunteer!) and asked to become a member of this committee. My feeling was that, as part of “the solution” I could perhaps obstruct any ridiculous ideas the other committee members might have.
At our first committee meeting, the principal informed us that she had been given—through a grant from a state government agency—four slots for staff members from our school to attend active killer training provided by a company called ALICE Training Institute. I could not resist and so volunteered to be one of those four.
The class was held on April 9th and 10th at a Catholic school on the edge of the city. Apparently, enrollment at this school is WAY down, so much so that we had entire wing of the school to ourselves, with several larger rooms that could accommodate all of the students as well as a hallway with some smaller classrooms, restrooms, etc.
The primary instructor for this class was Sean Slezak, and he was assisted at times by the founder of ALICE Training, Greg Crane. Some occasional connections to specific local “events” was provided by the hosts, mostly former law enforcement types who were now involved in state level emergency management and the like. On a side note, Greg Crane founded this company in 2000 (this is no fly-by-night, Johnny-come-lately operation) in an effort, post-Columbine, to come up with a plan to keep his wife, a school teacher, safer in the school environment.
Most of the students were from local area school systems and a few private schools (mostly administrators with some teachers and teachers’ assistants). There were also a fair number of members of local law enforcement and school resource officers/supervisors attending as well. There were a total of 71 students in the class.
The class I attended is officially labeled “ALICE Instructor Training: 2 Day with ALICE Instructor Certification Option”, and its advertised cost is “starting at $589.00”. As noted, I was able to attend this course as part of my school’s contingent, and the funds were provided via a grant through a state government agency. I must confess that I went into this class having never heard of ALICE Training Institute and was fully prepared for a healthy dose of stupidity.
Training Day One
Our first day of training began in a large meeting room at 0800. Sean and Greg did a lot of tag-teaming during the lecture, but Sean definitely led the discussion. Greg regularly made fun of Sean for being nearly unintelligible, as he speaks with a strange accent that sounds like a mix of Minnesota and immigrant Czech (he blames his mom). Personally, I did not find his accent overly challenging. Sean worked in law enforcement in Iowa for around 20 years with much of that on his departments SWAT team. Greg’s background is similar, though in his case from the Dallas, TX area.
Most of Day One was lecture and question and answer format, with the final few hours devoted to some scenario-training. The lecture was backed up with PowerPoint slides that included basic bullet-point slides, schematics of active shooter scenes (such as the library at Columbine), access to 911 calls from active killer events, etc. Highlights of the lecture included what it is that ALICE stands for (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate), which sounds a lot like “Run, Hide, Fight” courtesy of the federal government. The idea behind ALICE is to provide schools, businesses, places of worship, etc., with a rough framework within which to work in order to limit liability, address accountability, and increase survivability.
The ALICE model is an options-based approach that is not scripted. For some people/locations/situations, a lockdown approach might be best. For others, fighting back might be more appropriate. For still others, getting out of dodge might be most suitable. An options-based approach is now favored by all of the major federal departments and agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, Department of Education, etc. The strict “lock-down” approach still, unfortunately, favored by many schools and businesses is now considered almost universally to be out of date.
Lessons taught on Day One also included the fact that most of these active killers—particularly those in schools—are some of the least-trained people out there, and yet they often have killed/wounded ratios with far higher kill rates than combat or police shootings. The answer to why that is stems from the fact that most of their victims are executed from 18 inches away, often after already having been wounded or, at the very least, putting up no defense. We spent a lot of time looking at Columbine and Virginia Tech and what happened to the victims who essentially stuck their heads between their legs and kissed their asses goodbye. On the contrary, in those locations during those same incidents—as well as others we looked at—where the victims either resisted or made fairly rapid escapes, the death tolls were much lower. The ALICE instructors emphasized that their training and model does not guarantee survival. Rather, it provides options that increase the possibility for survival. I should note that active killer events have occurred at facilities at which the staff members had received ALICE Training; the death tolls were miniscule by comparison to the ones that make the national news. I should also mention that the statistics and other included elements definitely went along with other sources I have read independently (Greg Ellifritz’s Active Response Training site, and its hundreds of excellent articles, comes immediately to mind).
At no time were the lessons of the early part of the day better illustrated than when we went into scenario training. The instructors put us through 4 different Force-on-Force scenarios. In the first, they showed us what the classic lock-down procedure was like. They had 70 of us divide up and go to different empty classrooms. We were instructed to turn out the lights and close the blinds. Our only other instruction was that we could not leave or resist in any way. My principal, with no prior firearms training, volunteered to be the active killer. Equipped with an automatic Nerf gun that shot marble-sized Nerf balls, she would go from room to room “killing” us. To stand in for the sound of gunfire, one of the instructors walked with her sounding an air horn she fired. In three minutes, she shot 26 of us (she shot me twice in the leg from a distance of about 12 inches). History would tell us that 13 of us would have probably died.
After reviewing what happened in that scenario, we entered scenario number two. We again moved to the classrooms, only this time we were given the instruction that we could leave when the “shooting” started. Two “safe areas” were marked out with caution tape to indicate that we had made it far enough away to be considered safe. This time, the Nerf gun was given to a local sheriff’s department SWAT team member. This time, as soon as the horn starting honking, we all started moving and got out of there. The hallway was evacuated within just over a minute, and he shot 7 people, which history tells us would mean 3-4 deaths. So the trained guy did significantly worse than the untrained woman just because people were moving (and by moving, let me just say that it was difficult, due to the crowd, to move quickly).
Scenario three was similar, only this involved the use of “distraction devices”. In this case, we were allowed to throw small (tennis ball-sized) Nerf balls at the shooter once he entered the room. Also at that point, we were free to either leave or swarm and disarm the attacker (how to do this was demonstrated earlier. It was not complicated). In this case, the “bad guy” got off only a couple of shots, hitting about 4 people in their extremities before he was bombarded with balls, swarmed, and disarmed. Hmmm.
The final scenario involved the surprise (truly a surprise, as the instructors had told us something else was going to happen) “assassination” of a teacher in a classroom. In this case, the teacher was killed and a few others hit in arms or legs before the attacker was again swarmed and subdued.
The lessons here were many and fairly obvious. Sitting around waiting to be shot is a recipe for disaster. Movement is good, distractions are good, fighting back is good, and combinations of all three is even better.
Training Day Two
Day Two was a bit more mundane, as it had two main foci. The first was what the five steps of ALICE actually look like in practice. How do we alert the entire building/campus? How do we lockdown a room/building? What methods do we use to keep people (at that location as well as family members off-site) informed about what is going on? What techniques can we use to counter, and when is countering contraindicated (do you want kindergarteners fighting back?). When and how do we evacuate? Can we give people the “power” to just leave? The other focus during Day Two was on how to convince those back at our schools, companies, and churches to implement such a program. Also included were things like how to set up our facilities/communications/rally points, how to involve all stakeholders (for example, in a school, that would include the staff members, students, parents, etc.).
Day Two culminated with the breaking up of the whole group into four sub-groups of about twenty people each. Once in our sub-groups, we had to prepare a demonstration (photographed or videotaped) as well as an associated PowerPoint presentation outlining a scenario of our own as well as what strategies would be best utilized for the best chances of success. We chose a situation in which an irate parent whose child did not qualify for the marching band came into the music classroom and shot the band director in the head. After running through the scenario, we saw how where people were situated in the room helped determine their best course of action. For the “students” in the front of the room, throwing trumpets and clarinets at me (I played the shooter) once I shot the band director and then swarming and disarming me worked well. For those located on the periphery of the band, a quick exit out one of the two doors was a safer course of action. Again: options-based.
The three coworkers with whom I attended this training (the principal, a behavior support specialist, and an IT guy) left the training very much impressed. I too was surprised at the quality of both the material covered as well as the instruction. The four of us are now, after also completing an online component, ALICE certified trainers, and so we plan to bring this training to our school. Our school being a school for students with special needs brings with it a lot of unique challenges that a “regular” high school or middle school would never face, so we have our work cut out for us. However, my principal is looking forward to purchasing a Nerf gun and air horn, so the next few months should be interesting!
Three weeks ago I had never heard of ALICE Training Institute. Now that I have gone through their training, I am glad that I attended the two day training. I think that if I was in a position where I had to train a large organization such as a business, church, school, etc., the options-based approach as taught by ALICE Training is as good a way to go as anything I have otherwise seen. It certainly beats the old “let’s do what we used to do when under threat of nuclear attack from the Soviet Union and apply it to active shooters” approach. Different threats require different responses, and I am glad that at least one company out there is doing things sensibly.
As always, thanks for reading. If you have any questions or comments about this training, please post them below or on our Facebook page, as we always welcome civil discourse.