Training involves new mindset about violent attacks on public places

HOT SPRINGS – Some 100 people – including teachers, school secretaries, county personnel, Hot Springs Police Department, Fall River County Sheriff’s Deputies and people from Fall River Hospital – assembled in Tays Auditorium at Hot Springs High School to receive their ALICE training on Thursday morning, Aug. 17.

In a nutshell, ALICE training is a new way of looking at how to handle violent intruders – including gun-wielding “active” shooters – in public places, such as school, hospitals, businesses and other venues. Rather than passive, lockdown-and-hide behavior, ALICE training encourages those in such a predicament to be pro-active and find ways to survive and escape from violent intruders.

Those who attended the training had previously received about an hour’s worth of on-line training and were completing the remainder of the course in person.

Andrea Nester, a National ALICE Instructor, led the training exercise with a discussion of active shooter cases, including Columbine High School, where 12 students and one teacher were gunned down by two students; Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting, where 20 students and six staff members were killed; and Virginia Tech, where 32 students were murdered.

Analyzing these and other incidents, Nester pointed out to the audience, showed some revealing information, and justifications for changing the strategies that have been used in the past to deal with violent intruders:

•Of 160 active shooting incidents since 2000, 39 were in educational settings: 27 at K-12 schools and 12 at colleges. Of these, 14 involved high schools; six, middle schools; four, elementary schools.

•The shooters involved in school shootings were typically 15 – 19 years old. Business place shootings usually involve 35-44 year olds. Most are men, women get involved when their husbands go on a rampage and they join in.

• Most shooters have little familiarity with the firearms they are using, and tend to acquire the firearm shortly before the incident takes place. Still, they manage to hit their targets with 70 percent of their shots and have a 50 percent kill ratio; compared to police accuracy statistics which say cops hit about 20 – 30 percent of the time they shoot. Shooters also tend to zone out, and see and hear little but their targets.

• Most active shooter cases last just five to seven minutes, with a person being killed every 5 -15 seconds.

• Timing is critical: It typically takes 3 – 5 minutes before someone calls 9-1-1, and using the 15 second per death rule,12 people could die during this time. Another minute, perhaps more time if a cell phone is used (dispatchers can locate land line callers immediately, but cell phones locate within about a mile) is burned up before dispatch can send a police officer, four more dead. It takes another five to seven minutes before the police actually arrive, 20 deaths; another minute for the officers to get ready, four more dead; another minute for the police to scan and find the gunman (four more dead). It was 15 minutes between the first 911 call at Sandy Hook before police entered the building, Nester said. Altogether, in 11 minutes 44 people could be killed.

Students, teachers and others, Nester told the audience need to adjust their strategies to deal with violent intruders.

Negotiations don’t work, she said, showing a film of a Florida school board meeting where the husband of a woman who had been fired by the school district came to the meeting to shoot the school board. School board members tried to negotiate their way out of the circumstance, but failed. Only when a school security officer maneuvered himself into a position where his shots would not hit board members and took down the intruders – the shooter fired first – was the situation resolved.

Lockdown and hide efforts don’t work. For example, the students at Columbine had about four minutes to evacuate the building before the shooting began and most could have done so, but they were trained to lockdown and freeze. Nester said she has witnessed evacuation drills at 1,500-student high schools where everyone is out of the building in just 43 seconds.

Also, at Virginia Tech, the students in the dorms who actively barricaded their rooms suffered few injuries. Those who were passive, who didn’t jump out second story windows – as suggested by Prof. Liviu Librescu, one of the heroes of the shooting because he saved many lives, Nester said – or barricade suffered horrible casualties.

ALICE training is a way to rethink all this, to learn “what you don’t know you don’t know,” Nester said.

The ALICE acronym stands for the five techniques for surviving an active shooter situation, according to the ALICE Training Institute (ATI), the purveyors of the training: Alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate.

• Alert – Focuses on becoming aware of a threat – the sooner danger can be spotted, the sooner it can be thwarted. A speedy response is critical. This is also about overcoming denial, recognizing the signs of danger and receiving notifications about the danger from others.

• Lockdown – If evacuation is not a safe choice, this is an option. It involves barricading entry points into the room to create a semi-secure starting point, and preparing to evacuate or counter a threat if needed.

• Inform – Communicating a violent intruder’s location and direction in real time is critical the next step. Armed intruder situations are unpredictable and evolve quickly. Clear, direct, plain language real time information is key to making effective survival decisions. If a shooter is in an isolated area of a building, ATI says, people can be safely evacuated while those in direct danger can perform enhanced lockdown and prepare to counter.

• Counter – This, “a strategy of last resort,” according to ATI, involves creating noise, movement, distance and distraction to reduce a shooter’s ability to accurately shoot. It’s not fighting – ATI doesn’t believe actively confronting a violent intruder is the best method to ensure the safety of those involved. However, creating a dynamic environment where the shooter’s chance of hitting a target is reduced can provide the precious seconds needed to evacuate.

• Evacuate – This is removing everyone from a danger zone when it is safe to do this. ATI provides techniques for safer and more strategic evacuations. Evacuating to a safe area takes people out of harm’s way and hopefully prevents civilians from having to come into any contact with the shooter. ATI teaches strategies for evacuating through windows, from higher floors and under extreme duress.

Nester told the group about a number of active things people can do in an active shooter circumstance, all designed to thwart a shooter (using electrical cords to hold a door shut and prevent entry into a room), distract the shooter (shout at him, throw something, etc.), disorient him (move or have a number of people swarm a shooter), create time to run away from him, or simply evacuate the building.

Then she led several smaller contingents in a series of four hands-on scenarios in high school classrooms designed to simulate the emotional and physical sense of an active shooter coming into a school. Everyone wore protective headgear – much like a fencers mask – for safety.

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In the first scenario, to demonstrate how ineffective lockdown and hide tactics are, she had the teachers and others experience this first hand.

A teacher volunteer played the active shooter role, armed with an Airsoft pistol, which can shoot a plastic pellet at about 225 feet per second, about half the speed of a regular BB gun. The “students” – the teachers and others – were simply to hide anywhere they could. Most chose the classroom closet.

In this scenario, 27 students, were “killed” by the shooter, who fired 36 rounds in just 55 seconds. A single student remained unharmed.

Analyzing the experience afterwards, the shooter said the experience was scary and didn’t feel very good. No one of the group of “students” felt at all safe, either.

A second scenario involved the “students” simply evacuating the room as fast as they could to escape the shooter, Hot Springs Police Captain William Wainman. In this case, three students were “killed” in a 25-second incident.

A third scenario was “full on ALICE” where the students could use any means they had learned – distraction, evacuation, swarming the shooter and other techniques to thwart the intruder. Hot Springs Police Chief Mike Close was the shooter, and he was pummeled by rubber balls and taken down by a group of swarming students in just five seconds. He managed to “kill” just one student, his first tackler.

A fourth scenario suggested what could happen with an armed teacher – something many advocate. ALICE training also came into play, but the teacher with the handgun had to shoot over students to hit the intruder and couldn’t get to his firearm very quickly. As a result, five students were shot. Nester said she was no fan of armed teachers because analysis of the shootings simply don’t support this offering more safety than basic ALICE training.

After the scenarios, she asked those who participated if they felt better about how to handle violent intruders. Their answer was yes.

Capping the training off, Nester urged those involved not to focus on the mentally ill people who did the shootings – “sick,” she called them – but to talk about the people who survived, the heroes of these shootings: Prof. Librescu, an Auschwitz survivor, who helped 14 people escape the Virginia Tech shooter; Jake Reicher, who tackled a shooter in a school lunchroom and despite being shot and severely wounded (he died on the operating table three times) saved 17 lives; or six-year old Jessie Lewis, a Sandy Hook student, who because his father had firearms and he knew that reloading takes time, encouraged other kids to run away from the shooter. Lewis didn’t survive, but he is still a hero, she said.

Elementary principle John Fitzgerald said he had 100 licenses for the ALICE training, and that these people, now ALICE trained, would train others, such as bus drivers, custodians, cooks and other district personnel who couldn’t make the initial training.

The $8,800 ALICE training was made possible by a $2,000 grant from First Interstate Bank Fall River Area Foundation; $1,000 from the school district; $500 from the Hot Springs Police Department; $500 from Fall River County; and a $4,800 donation by Bob and Dr. Heather Preuss.

• For more information on ALICE training, as well as analysis of shootings, visit the ATI website at https://www.alicetraining.com/our-program/alice-training/

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