ALICE response opens options in school shootings
December 13, 2013
Sac County Sheriff Ken McClure (left) and East Sac County School liaison Kale Brady have trained staff how to respond to a shooting.
Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate.
ALICE is the alternative to the traditional lockdown response adopted by most school districts following the school shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in 1999. Designed to give teachers and administrators to get more students out of the building and away from potential harm, the program has received renewed consideration in the aftermath of last year's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which claimed the lives of 20 students and six adults before the assailant turned the gun on himself.
One local district has decided to fully implement the ALICE philosophy. East Sac County school officials have been working with the Sac County Sheriff's Office to complete staff training.
"To me ALICE is a concept, not a process. It gives another way of looking at things," explained Sheriff Kenneth McClure. "At Sandy Hook, the school took all the security measures they could do, but these people still got in. By confining people just to a lockdown, you don't give them much of an option to survive."
The sheriff's office sent two deputies to ALICE instructor training in June, and the school officials began to implement it in their own district in August. The concept can also be used in business offices and government buildings, as well as in schools, added McClure.
The key to ALICE, according to superintendent Kevin Fiene, is that it is not a linear process. There is not a set response for any given teacher. In the event of a shooting, a call would go out through the intercom system telling teachers where the shooter is located. It would then be up to the teachers to determine their course of action - if the shooter is close, it is probably better to lock down the room; if the shooter is across the building, it is probably better to evacuate the students.
"It's more of a flow chart, that you have options," described Fiene. "We've tried to empower the teachers."
The nature of ALICE makes it difficult to practice, explained school liaison Kale Brady. So far, the school has practiced evacuating, so that students are comfortable with relocation destinations. They have also conducted a training scenario after school with the staff, in which an "assailant," played by Brady, entered the building firing blank rounds from an AK-47 down a hallway.
"We have a really good working relationship with the county sheriff," said Fiene. "We look at it as a partnership, as well as our other local police departments."
Though there are plans in place to conduct some drills in the coming year, it will remain impossible to know how any one individual will react in the moment, officials agreed. The best way to be prepared is to practice different scenarios.
Once a teacher made the initial decision on fight or flight, the flow chart continues, explained Fiene. Evacuating classrooms choose their way out of the building, while lockdown classrooms can move to barricade doors or prepare to distract the assailant.
"Common sense says you're going to be safer when you get away from this intruder, if you're able to, than the notion of being sitting ducks," said Fiene. "Sometimes locking down is going to be the best option, so that's still part of the repertoire, but why wouldn't you want to have multiple options when it statistically increases the likelihood of keeping your kids safe? It's not rocket science."
The superintendent backs up his statement with data from the 2007 shooting at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Va., gathered from the Virginia Governor's Report on the incident. In Rooms 206 and 211, students and office workers stayed down. In Room 206, 10 of the 14 people present were killed and two more were wounded. In Room 211, 12 of the 19 individuals present were killed and six more were wounded.
In Rooms 204 and 205, individuals barricaded the rooms, or jumped as the shooter approached. In Room 204, only two of the 19 individuals present were killed and only three were wounded. In Room 205, all individuals present survived.
School shooters are not generally highly trained like police officers are, explained McClure. Yet, according to the data he presents during ALICE training, shooters hit their marks more than 50 percent of the time while police hit their targets only 20 percent of the time.
"When you're trying to shoot at a moving target, you shoot at the things that are moving, arms, legs," said McClure of the shooters, explaining that these targets are harder to hit and the injuries often not life-threatening, as opposed to the hits taken by individuals trying to hide.
When individuals remain still, the shooter's job is easier. By creating their own chaos, either through making noise and moving around, potential victims can become survivors by making the environment unpredictable and distracting for the untrained shooter.
"The average incident lasts less than two minutes," said McClure. "Anytime you can throw off somebody's plan and make them rethink and recalculate, it buys you time."
McClure said that officials must also consider the possibility of a secondary device or shooter outside the building that could make evacuations dangerous. But it is impossible to plan for everything, said Brady, which is why the ALICE system has been adopted. By design, if teachers encounters an obstacle, they are already prepared with other courses of action, unlike in response plans that follow one set of linear procedures.
"I still like our odds in that situation better than having (the students) hunkered down," said Fiene.
There may not be a single foolproof method to keep children in schools safe, but the parents and community members want to know that officials are considering all the options, McClure said.
"If people think this couldn't happen in rural Iowa, they've got their heads in sand, because it could," said Fiene. "We take it seriously."
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