(CANTON, Mass.) — Students in Canton, Mass., are the latest to receive training that would give them a more proactive role in responding to a school shooter. Instead of hiding, they would barricade doors and learn counter techniques.
The program, called ALICE — alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate — has been implemented in 300 schools since it was founded in the mid-2000s by former SWAT officer Greg Crane and his wife, a former school principal.
After the Columbine shooting in 1999, Crane said he realized the lockdown-only policies most schools have aren’t enough to protect students if there is a shooter on the loose. By locking doors and hiding, students become easy targets, he said.
“You look at Columbine and every single child killed in the library that morning,” Crane told ABCNews.com, referring to the library in which 52 children and teachers hid for more than four minutes before the gunmen entered and shot 18 of them. “They were all sitting down. … Why were they there five minutes when they had five minutes to do something else?”
In Canton, the adoption of ALICE training has been received with some hesitation from the Canton School Committee, the Boston Globe reports. After a reporter questioned local officials, the committee called a meeting on Nov. 15 to discuss the program.
“Truthfully, we’re a little behind the information curve on all of this,” committee chairman John Bonnanzio told the Globe on Thursday. “At the very least we need to be able to ask some questions. We think the community should be able to weigh in, too.”
The C in ALICE is for “counter,” and that’s often the most controversial step, but it’s also a last resort, Crane said.
Usually only for older students, “counter” involves making use of students’ advantage in numbers over the lone shooter, because 97 percent of shooters act alone, Crane said. In his experience, police are often less accurate shooters during shootouts because of overwhelming stimuli, like noise. Taking that knowledge into account, Crane’s program suggests that students keep moving, make noise, and sometimes throw things.
“There are things you can do to make yourself a harder target,” Crane said.
Of course, “counter” only happens if the student comes face-to-face with a shooter.
“Maybe it is thought out completely, but we need details,” Bonnanzio told the Globe. “Maybe giving these kinds of instructions to children in the high school, as opposed to the elementary schools, is a better idea.”
Crane said training differs based on age, but it’s ultimately up to local law enforcement to decide who learns what.
Other ALICE steps include an updated version of “lockdown” because doors — especially those with glass — can be easy to break through, Crane said. Since shooters know they have a finite amount of time to kill people, Crane said they’ll often move on if entering one classroom takes too long. As such, ALICE involves barricading doors. For instance, one teacher he trained plans to tie a 400-pound filing cabinet to the door handle of her classroom to make it difficult to open.
But ALICE has its critics, most notably, Kenneth Trump, a school safety consultant in Ohio who runs a consulting firm called National School Safety and Security Services.
Trump argues on the NSSSS website that Crane’s expectations are unrealistic. He told the Globe that as soon as a student is shot obeying ALICE standards, parents are going to ask who taught them to do that.
But Crane says law enforcement haven’t proven that they can arrive in time to save lives during a shooting. As such, students should have options and decide for themselves how to react.
Crane said he knows of two instances in which ALICE saved lives. During the high school cafeteria shooting in Ohio this February, for example, a young girl ran from the cafeteria because her mom received training and told her never to just duck and cover during a shooting. The girl brought several friends with her, but four people who remained were shot, and three of them died.
“She did the right thing,” Crane said. “She made herself a very hard target.”
ALICE trainings will also be held in Nebraska, Ohio and Indiana this month.
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