Do ALICE training tactics put students, teachers at risk?

Posted by on June 14, 2013

Questions about student and teacher safety continue to mount as some schools deploy questionable drill tactics in which children and teachers are instructed to throw things at, and to attack, armed gunmen.

The tactics stem from the controversial “Counter” component of the A.L.I.C.E. Training program, which stands for Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate.

Questionable tactics stemming from A.L.I.C.E. training

In recent months, school and police officials have reported some highly questionable tactics that a number of veteran school security professionals believe put students and teachers at a greater safety risk:

  • A Wisconsin police officer told me earlier this week that at one school in his jurisdiction, where a number of school staff were sent to A.L.I.C.E. training separate from his department, elementary students were told to keep a can of soup in their desks to throw at an intruder if a gunman entered their classroom;
  • An Ohio news story reported that A.L.I.C.E. training in one school district would be “age appropriate”: They were telling kindergarten through sixth graders not to attack the gunman, but only to throw things at gunmen to distract them.
  • A police officer told me that at one school in a district which had sent staff to A.L.I.C.E. training, a teacher came out of a classroom and tried to attack at a SWAT team member with a hammer during a tactical exercise. The teacher was “gently put to the ground” according to the officer, unlike a real gunman who would have simply killed her, the officer said.
  • A high school principal asked our team, “Do you mean I shouldn’t play loud, weird music over the PA system to distract the active shooter when he comes down the hall?,” a new step he was planning after A.L.I.C.E. training is his school-community.
  • In one video on YouTube demonstrating A.L.I.C.E. training, a voice comes across the school’s P.A. system asking the active shooter, “Hey jerk, why are you in our school?,” as the active shooter goes shooting down the hallway.
  • One superintendent told us that her teachers did not want to do lockdowns any longer. Instead, they wanted to “just run” if a serious incident occurred. It was unclear who would be supervising students left behind when the teachers (and presumably at least some other students) ran.

These and other examples have left a number of veteran school security, psychologists and law enforcement professionals with serious implementation concerns, doubts and objections to A.L.I.C.E.

Police officers cannot answer age, developmental, special needs, or policy questions

In two spirited workshops at a state conference in Wisconsin earlier this week, police officers advocating for A.L.I.C.E. or similar models remained unable to answer questions about how, if at all, these training programs account for age and developmental factors, special needs children (autistic, mobility impaired, behavioral and emotional disorders, etc.), and other child-centered and preK-12 school-specific concerns.

No one could point to written school board policies, regulations and procedures governing A.L.I.C .E. type programs even though some of their districts were implementing the concept. They were also unable to confirm that written opinions supporting these programs had been received from school attorneys and insurance carriers.

A couple of officers suggested that policies, regulations, procedures, and reviews by attorneys were not even necessary even though school employees and students were being instructed to attack gunmen. I asked them if their police departments sent them out with Tasers, guns and self-defense tactics without policies, legal review, etc., and why they should have these management protocols yet schools with people instructed to attack gunmen should not have them.

Good options are one thing; Bad options are another

It is unclear in some of these examples as to whether they were directly taught by A.L.I.C.E. instructors or if they are the result of what was interpreted from the instruction by those who attended A.L.I.C.E. training.  Either way — direct instruction or interpretation — these tactics leave many experienced preK-12 school safety believing that such practices increase, not decrease, the risks of students and teachers being hurt or killed.

A.L.I.C.E. advocates often suggest that schools do not have options. Educators already have options, and they need to recognize that there is a difference between good options and bad options. Bad options such as the above practices done under the umbrella of A.L.I.C.E. training are options that those selling A.L.I.C.E. training can keep out of our schools, in my opinion.

Ken Trump

Visit School Security Blog at:

Follow Ken on Twitter @safeschools

Visit and “Like” Our Facebook Fan Page at:

7 thoughts on “Do ALICE training tactics put students, teachers at risk?

  1. John Henderson says:

    I would think that the lack of major law enforcement agency endorsement of these tactics speaks volumes about how effective or even well-planned and conceived the training is for school districts. Schools must plan with their local emergency services partners to establish a reasonable response to attacks. Individuals trying to stand up to an attacking gunman will likely become casualties very quickly as they are doing nothing more than drawing the attention and anger of the attacker, who is operating at a much more intense and offensive level. The individuals trying to fight back will also get in the way of responding law enforcement who may misinterpret who they are, given the unexpected aggressive behavior.

    1. Ken Trump says:

      Thanks for sharing your logical, professional thinking on this, John. You nailed it as the standard here is, “What is reasonable?” I am confident that reasonable people will not find the above and other similar measures “reasonable.” Well-intended? Yes. Well-thought-out? No.

  2. Shawn Hoyle says:

    I would like to offer my rebuttal to these so called, “questionable tactics” you are writing about.

    NUMBER 1: I teach my kids to defend themselves if they are attacked. I also teach them the difference between necessary self defense and picking a fight. If my elementary aged son were to be directly confronted by a violent attacker (armed or not), I do not want him to sit in the corner, put his hands over his head and wait to be attacked. I want him to have other options. If he can run away, I want him to run away, but if there is no way out, I want him to throw something heavy and solid at the attacker. A can of soup is the right tool for the job.

    NUMBER 2: About ALICE being age appropriate, I would like to read the Ohio news story that you read. And we all know how news stories are not just the facts anymore. The story was likely twisted one way or another, intentional or not. I highly doubt that they were telling kindergartners to do the same things as sixth graders. HUGE difference in mental and physical capabilities. Re-read NUMBER 1.

    NUMBER 3: The teacher who came out and tried to attack a SWAT team member with a hammer. That’s exactly why we train. We want to make our mistakes in training and learn from them. And even if the gunman did “simply kill her”, at least she took a stand to do everything in her power to protect her children, and likely allowed them more time to escape or prepare to defend themselves.

    NUMBER 4: Playing loud or weird music over the P.A. system is just one tool that may make a difference in the cadence of the attacker and allow more time for a response. Do you think this tactic would assist the attacker? Maybe, if he happened to like the song you played for him.

    NUMBER 5: What do we reflectively do first in response to an attack? What do police officers do first when confronting a bad guy? Do they just shoot him? NO, of course not, THEY YELL! (STOP! POLICE! PUT THE GUN DOWN!) Just as playing something loud on the P.A. system, it’s another option to cause a distraction to break up the focus of the bad guy.

    NUMBER 6: I thought your statement was funny. Do you actually believe that they meant they wanted to “just run” and leave the kids behind? You must think people are stupid. I think it’s a well known fact that almost any adult (especially teachers and parents) would do whatever they could to protect a child. They would implement a plan of evacuation and practice (just like they do with fire and tornado drills.

    And your mention of special needs children? Come on! Do you really think we wouldn’t address them? You must really think you are the only smart person on earth. You’re just trying to pull this stuff out of thin air to fill up space and create doubt.

    Listen here, Ken. I don’t have to consult my attorney or my insurance carrier to get their opinion on how to defend myself. When something awful happens in a school that threatens the lives of our precious children, primal survivor instinct takes over. Training builds instinct. You do what you have to do to survive and deal with consequences afterwards. I’d rather be judged by twelve than carried by six.

    And finally, this is all just your opinion. You are free to express your opinion about tactics, but directly trying to discredit a specific company and their tactics is just bad for business. If I were to try to discredit my competition to the public, I would eventually begin to lose credibility with them and therefore lose business.

    Ken, it’s just bad for business.

    1. Ken Trump says:

      Thanks for sharing your rebuttal, Shawn. It’s always great to get some insight into how some people are thinking when they support and teach some of these questionable tactics.

      A few responses to your opinions:

      1. “A can of soup is the right tool for the job.” It’s hard to argue with someone who thinks we should have elementary students keep a can of soup to throw at an intruder/armed gunman. Perhaps police cars in your department/jurisdiction equip that way, too? The police officer who told me about it had a lot of concerns and it was in his jurisdiction. I agree with him.

      But I do appreciate you acknowledging that some ALICE trainers/supporters do believe, “A can of soup is the right tool for the job” for elementary children to attack intruders/armed gunmen.

      2. Sure, I’m happy to provide a link to the story. Here’s the link and what was attributed to one of ALICE’s lead instructors, Chad Cunningham:

      [And countering may look different for different people. Kindergartners through sixth-graders are instructed to throw objects at the shooter, trying to disrupt him from his game plan, said Cunningham.
      Older students can throw things, as well, but may be able to physically attack the shooter, depending on the situation.Cunningham said those involved in attacking the shooter should try to gain control of the arms, legs and head of the shooter.]

      But maybe that part of the news story was totally wrong and all the rest was just right on target. Those darn reporters!

      3. Interesting you don’t see a problem with a teacher coming out of a classroom, into a hall, and going after a hypothetical intruder with a hammer when the intruder is armed with a gun.

      And she did everything to protect her children, you say? Like leaving the classroom, being incapacitated after trying to attack a gunman in the hallway with a hammer and getting neutralized here (killed in reality, most likely), and leaving the children now with no adult in the room to supervise, direct, and protect.

      4. Actually, playing loud or weird music over the PA would certainly distract the students and staff. It would probably distract the responding police officers, too. The shooter? Probably not, especially in comparison to the risk of the good guys (teachers, staff, students, responding officers) vs. the shooter. It also conflicts with the misguided “Inform” component of ALICE which suggests giving the play-by-play movements of the shooter over the PA. So what is it — a little weird and loud music, then a play-by-play, then cut-in to the weird music, then the next play, etc.?

      A number of people I’ve shared this with also point out that given a number of the school shooters have been video game extremists, they probably would like the music or at least would not be impacted adversely by it. So I can see where it would distract the wrong people and not hinder the shooter. Absolutely.

      5. See #4

      6. Teachers with the “just run” mindset do raise legitimate questions. You say “They would implement a plan of evacuation and practice.” So in your ind

      Do I think special needs children issues are not addressed or not adequately addressed? Yes. Absolutely. Not one person supporting ALICE could respond concretely to if and how this is done at a conference where this was discussed last week. It’s not in ALICE’s staff booklet that talks about once the air assault has been initiated, then begin the ground assault. But I guess you’ll just ask that we take your word on it that they are…

      You may not have to consult your attorney or insurance carrier on how to defend yourself. But this is not one person at home defending himself or his family. This is an organization(s) and their employees or agents taking on a formal role to provide specific teaching instruction. One would assume your police department and most academies have formal policies, procedures, regulations, etc. that are legally reviewed and approved, and reviewed/supported by the department’s insurance carrier for errors, omissions, implementation, etc. Or do your departments just fly by the seat of their pants, arm their officers with Tasers and guns, give them haphazard self defense training, and say, “Go get’em?”with nothing to back them up formally and legally?

      Yes, these are my professional opinions. Last time I looked, professionals do voice their opinions on controversial ideas and programs in their field. It has nothing to do with discrediting a specific company. The company and it’s representative(s) backgrounds will speak for themselves. The conversation is focused on implementation and the concept.

      And as I told you on our Facebook exchanges, ALICE training is not my competition nor does voicing my opinions adversely impact my credibility or “lose business.” You seem to misunderstand and inaccurately believe that I am competing with ALICE. I’m not competing with ALICE training and never would take such a high-risk, high-liability business venture.

      I’m not teaching that program or a similar one. In fact, the existence of ALICE training is great for my business because educators are consistently telling me that they reject the ALICE concept and would never pursue it. They are happy I am a voice of reason and offer them an option (see, I do believe in options) to jumping on the latest fads.

      The fact that you are so focused on the business end of this suggests to me that those with a stake in ALICE are worried that by voicing my opinion, their money stream will be adversely impacted, not mine.

      Thanks again for sharing your opinion. It is the American way and right to do so. And I have no plans to stop voicing mine on professional debates and controversies in my field.

  3. Shawn Hoyle says:

    Ok, just a friendly response to your #3: As I said in my rebuttal above, a teacher is not going to leave his/her kids alone. If a teacher would go into the hallway to distract/attack the bad guy, he/she certainly wouldn’t leave the kids alone. Most of our elementary classrooms (especially the lower grades) have more than one adult in the room.
    And we’ll just have to agree to disagree on the rest because, again, these are just opinions. There is not much history on these new concepts/tactics to know for sure if they will be effective. I certainly believe that we do need other options than just hunkering down and becoming a target/casualty.
    Even though we disagree on some of the individual concepts of how to keep our children safe in school. I think we can agree that nothing we do is going to be 100% effective unless we build fortified underground bunkers to serve as schools. We’re just not going to do that. We obviously agree that there is a need to do something more than what has been done in the past, and I applaud you for trying to make a difference. We surely love our children and will do whatever we can to protect them from the evil that exists.

  4. T Roberts says:

    As former Police officer and one who was involved with a juvenile shooting I can tell you the best result is secure the outside before they can enter a building. We need to enforce outside security measures to the extreme. Cameras, security check points on the outside of your grounds. Lets talk about stopping the entrance, spend our time and money on protecting the grounds and building. Once we secure the outside then we can proceed with dealing with a attacker on the inside. Any and all training measure should be evaluated. Find the good and bad and not take it personal if you tactics need to be altered. Lets find common ground.

  5. Admittedly I have not spent nearly as much time considering the behavior of the victim pool in these scenarios as I have the responders. However I have created live role player exercises to model what we will predict they will do. 26+ years of LEO experience, 18+ of which was tactical and training.
    This whole argument is silly. A armed person walks into a confined area and starts executing people of all shapes and sizes. Their mindset is clearly reflected in their actions. Until something disrupts that mindset and focuses it elsewhere there is nothing compelling them to alter their course. Consider a kid throwing rocks at beehive and having a grand time of it. They will continue to do so until the swarm responds and then they flee.
    Covering your head and hoping you don’t get killed is not a plan and telling people its okay to fight back does not mean they will. Airsoft / Paintball bravery is much easier than a real hail of bullets. However, if even one person can capture the mind of that attacker, do the unexpected, induce a weapon malfunction, take them off their feet, or just get them to panic fire and waste ammo….that is saving lives. Postulating about evacuation plans for those who are infirmed and liability for telling people its okay not to sit there and let themselves be killed sounds like the ranting of someone who has never been in fight outside of a courtroom.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *