Bringing pencils & books to a gun fight; ALICE Training raises questions

Posted by on October 30, 2011


“While he’s busy ducking and covering his head from our air assault, we must now begin the ground assault.”

This quote from a staff training booklet on the A.L.I.C.E. (Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate) plan struck me when it was shared by a client school district.   The quote was included in a section called, “OK, I made him mad. Now What!?”

And this followed a section that included asking if the reader could visualize a person trying to shoot while being bombarded with books, backpacks, desks, etc.

Was this a military fighter’s guide?  No.  Maybe a guide for S.W.A.T. training at the local law enforcement academy?  No.

Try a staff booklet for teachers.  Yes.  Teachers.

‘Bringing a purse to a gunfight’ draws out common sense

My recent post on Bringing a Purse to a Gun Fight fortunately brought out some sensible educators who supported my questioning of those who advocate teaching teachers and students to attack armed intruders.  One school principal said:

“I will not be advocating that my staff attack a gunman. We will do a table top and discuss what to say or not to say in these situations. I am sorry that you were attacked by one of my colleagues. It also frightens me that someone actually thinks that woman with the purse acted rationally. I wonder if he would want his wife or daughter to hit a gunman with a purse.”

Other emails came in with similar and even stronger supportive comments.

It was refreshing to see that so many, and based on my conversations with folks in the field I would venture to say the majority of, veteran school administrators and safety officials fall in on the same side of questioning this proposed approach.

Strong on military and warrior talk; Light on education, child, and implementation Talk

The advocates of teaching kids to attack armed gunmen, who primarily come at the issue from a military and/or law enforcement background, appear to be well-intended and genuinely concerned about the safety of kids and teachers.  But their writings and teaching are heavy on the “warrior” theme and light on a discussion and apparent understanding of the implications for implementation of their concept in a preK-12 educational setting.

The concept may have some applicability in college and university settings. And at least one training company’s web site is promoting it for not only schools, but also for colleges, churches, hospitals, and workplaces.

The marketing of the concept with its heavy warrior theme resonates with individuals with professional military and law enforcement careers.  And it should.  This is who they are, what they chose for a career, and how they train and develop their mindset to do their jobs.

But it has light-to-non-existent writing about age appropriateness, child emotional and physiological developmental issues, child and teen psychological issues, special needs children considerations, trainer background and standards, methods of delivery (duration, intensity, repetition and reinforcement, etc.) for educators and children, etc.

Preying on emotions, chest thumping, warrior calls and related tactics to defend this theory may sound good, but the devil is in the details of implementation.  And implementation considerations for this proposed approach are more complex than how a local news article described one sheriff’s approach to ALICE training:

“Students can be given an overview of the program in an assembly or in the classroom.”

An overview?  An overview??? And in a one-shot presentation?

Sorry folks, but not with my kids you won’t.  Nor should you with anyone else’s kids other than your own, if that’s what you want to teach them.

The devil is in the details of implementation and in this case, the details are missing

See the issue here is both the concept and the implementation.  Law enforcement officers and those in our military don’t get an “overview” of weapons training and self defense training.  They are required to take repeated and ongoing training, updates, certifications, recertifications, etc.  Even coaches spend hours, weeks and years working with youth to develop their athletic skills, temperament and ability to perform in a particular sport.

But we’ve worked in school districts where the plan was reportedly to include 20 to 25 minutes of instruction for kids in an assembly or classroom setting.  Training for teachers may be a bit more.  But never have I heard or read of it being much more than a quick, one-shot deal.

And even if more was proposed, there are many other implementation questions and issues a number I outline in detail on my web page on Teaching School Students to Fight Gunmen including:

  • Is it unrealistic to expect 25 students and a teacher to react simultaneously, with split-second accuracy and timing, when a person with a gun unexpectedly walks into a room?
  • Would throwing objects incite a suspect not otherwise planning on shooting?
  • What age appropriateness and child developmental factors have been researched and incorporated into this proposed approach for teaching kids to attack armed gunmen?
  • What considerations have been given for special needs students (physically-challenged, emotionally disturbed, autistic, medically fragile, learning disabilities, pre-school and childcare centers housed in schools, etc.)?
  • Who will instruct the programs? What is the basis for their qualifications? What is the basis of their certification, what standing does this certification have in the field, who is the authorizing/certifying agency and what is their credentialing/credibility — or is it just a certificate of attendance at a conference?
  • What liability insurance do the trainers carry and will they, their agencies, and the organizations that trained them to be trainers sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which includes indemnifying school districts if lawsuits are filed in connection with such training?
  • Will the school district mandate every student participate? What about parents who do not approve? What steps will be taken to address the safety of those children, as well as those who could not participate even if they wanted to do so (special needs, etc.)?

A 2011 letter to parents from the superintendent and two principals of one Ohio district actually provided a vague announcement of the program (no mention of teaching kids to attack armed intruders), invited parents to an evening hour and one-half meeting to “preview” the program, and gave a “participation waiver” for parents of students in grades 7-12 who did not want their children to participate in the ALICE “assembly.”

As a school safety professional and a parent, this is a letter that makes me go, “Hmmmmmm…..,” — before I start asking a whole lot of other questions.

Supportive references are for workplace and adult, not child and school, settings

Now some advocates for this approach claim their training is consistent with the Department of Homeland Security, state homeland security agencies, local law enforcement guidelines, etc.  And they’re probably right on the part that DHS and others have put out publications on workplace violence and geared toward adults which discuss a last resort effort of attacking active shooters.

But none of these publications are preK-12 school specific.  None of them are specifically designed and exclusively (or for that matter at all) address preK-12 school settings, teaching children and teens, child development and special needs school populations, etc.   Indeed, these publications are written for adults in workplace or other public settings.

And anyone can rattle off a list of names of individuals and incidents where teachers and other adults (such as during 9/11) have stepped up to tackle, disarm and/or fight armed intruders.  They did so by their own choice and with their own heroic drive to do so.

But not everyone is a warrior.  Not everyone is going to react in the same way in a threatening situation.  And not everyone, teacher or student, is comfortable with being force trained to “become a warrior.’

You decide; You’ll be responsibile and liable

I am not trying to force anyone to accept my opinion.  In fact, although I’ve been a life-long supporter and advocate for law enforcement, School Resource Officers (SROs), and our military, there are a number of people from those backgrounds who have and will continue to disagree with me.  That’s fine.  My respect and advocacy for them will be no less than it ever has been.

But unlike some of the advocates for this approach, I go beyond the emotion and look at the implementation details or lack of.  And there is a lot of “lack of” with what I have seen in this proposed and implemented on this approach to date in preK-12 settings.

Those who fail to consider these details help build the litigation consulting businesses of people like me who do expert witness work.  But by the time it hits that point, it often means someone has been injured or lost a life.

So while some advocates will pull the emotional strings with warrior themes, chest puffery, and themes of nobility, the level-headed educator and safety professional should take a more critical eye to both the concept and to the details of implementation.  For it is she/he who will ultimately be responsible and liable.

Ken Trump

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6 thoughts on “Bringing pencils & books to a gun fight; ALICE Training raises questions

  1. Ken, your comments about training SCHOOL CHILDREN is right on the money. As a former state police officer and school safety professional, I could not agree with you more about the dangers of this type of training. Is it appropriate in some environments, such at the college level? Perhaps if the training is comprehensive and on-going. As an example, one must re-certify every two years for CPR/First Aid, and one verbal/physical intevention program I’m familiar with requires at least annual recertification. My point being, if this type of standard was in place for the college level, then okay. But in my opinion, never for preK-12 students. Never!

  2. Ken:

    Once again you are right on the money. I cannot imagine training a class of students to attack an armed intruder to the school. It certainly raises the issue of liability, but also who’s child will be the first to make the bold attack on an armed suspect?

  3. stephen cerro says:

    So, this ALICE program also assumes rhat there will be enough items to throw? I am seeing more and more classrooms with primarily computers. We are just now seeing the beginnings of classrooms with only computers in them. Try throwing one of them from the middle or back of the room without knocking out most of the class – that is, if a kid can even get it disconnected fast enough!

    I think this program is misguided and more dangerous! A gunman, feeling cornered and under seige would likely spray the room with lead even with one or a few objects thrown and/or he may feel that they are truely bad people giving him more justification (in his own mind) to mow them down.

  4. sarah says:

    So, what would you want students and teachers do? Sit in the corner, passively waiting for a gunman to come in and pick them off like sitting ducks? I’ve sat through this training and it isn’t about attacking the attacker. It is about surviving and ensuring that as many of your students survive as possible. Instead of hiding, it trains people that they need to find a way out of the building (and away from the attacker) or to barricade themselves in a classroom to prevent the attacker from coming in and shooting people. Fighting back is only recommended if absolutely necessary. It’s not about ticking off the attacker, it’s about distracting him/her so you and your students can escape to safety. In the last line of defense, if the attacker comes in, you throw things to distract them and make them freeze before you swarm and subdue him/her. It’s a good practice to get everyone to safety and to take the deaths from 100% of students sitting in the corner (i.e. the typical lockdown position) to 10-25% of deaths. It isn’t perfect but it’s better than having them line up and wait to be killed.

    1. Ken Trump says:

      Dear Sarah:

      Thanks for sharing your opinions. I see from the server of your post your message came from the University of Akron. Perhaps you are a staff member, ALICE training affiliated individual or college student. Assuming that the program you “sat through” is at the college level, perhaps it may or may not be applicable in that environment. My posts are on preK-12 settings.

      Where exactly do you get your statistics of 100% of students in lockdowns having been killed in a corner? And upon what do you base your statistics of 10-25%?

      Where has an ALICE-trained program been successfully deployed in an actual shooter situation? Specific location, training, and incident dates?

      If ALICE is such an accepted model for preK-12, why did the school district in which it originated terminate the program without

      A number of ALICE principles (lockdowns, etc.) are nothing new. The difference for preK-12 is teaching kids to attack armed intruders. Look at the ALICE training, videos, TV news stories, etc. on the topic which feature ALICE instructors.

      And what is your response to the implementation issues specifically for preK-12 school settings, the focus of my posts?

      Ken Trump

  5. Ken, I agree with you that ALICE training is more fitting for implementation in a college setting/workplace, etc. The premise if I am interpreting it correctly is that preK12 students shouldn’t be trying to over-power an armed gunman? Having said that, however, is the thought that in a high school setting, such as Columbine or Parkland, it was student(s) or former student that attacked the school, correct? Obviously a rhetorical question. Would it have been appropriate for students (High School students at Columbine or Parkland) to attack, as a last resort, their attacker since the attacker was of same or similar build? Also, what are your thoughts regarding Sandy Hook? Specifically the teacher and her students who chose to barricade themselves (shelter-in-place style) in the library? For the record I took the ALICE Instructor training course and reading your blogs have raised many questions for me with respect to age-appropriateness as you clearly point out, specifically to FIGHT stage. As one example, if the classroom the gunman is about to enter have all heard “Shots Fired” down the hallway, isn’t it a given that he will enter that classroom firing away?

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