Before the tragic shooting events at Columbine, Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech, schools for the most part practiced a “traditional lockdown” protocol during any emergency involving an attacker on campus. Under that model, teachers would rush to lock classroom doors and students would hide under desks or tables if a gunman were to enter the building.
Unfortunately, these tragic events taught us that the traditional lockdown wasn’t effective at preventing casualties, and that it is time to pursue a better strategy to improve rates of survival. At Virginia Tech, for example, students who either jumped out of windows or barricaded their classroom doors with furniture were able to survive the attack, but many who held doors shut with their bodies or hid under desks did not.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the average police response time to a 911 call is about 11 minutes. In many cases, however, a 911 call about a shooting incident is not made immediately. As a result, there are often casualties before help arrives. This timeframe before the police response is critical, and new models emphasize that proactive, individual action can save lives.
The new way
In 2013, the U.S. Department of Education released revised recommendations for active shooter response, highlighting multiple options beyond the traditional lockdown, such as the “Run, Hide or Fight” model.
“You can run away from the shooter, seek a secure place where you can hide and/or deny the shooter access, or incapacitate the shooter to survive and protect others from harm,” the report stated.
The report recommended that staff and students might need to leverage more than one option.
In Massachusetts, state regulations mandate that all local school systems have evacuation and medical emergency response plans in place. In 2014, the Massachusetts Task Force on School Safety and Security released a 30-page report highlighting multiple recommendations on what schools can do to enhance safety and security.
The A.L.I.C.E. program – Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate – is mentioned in the report as an option for enhancing a lockdown strategy in order “to empower individuals to take common sense actions critical to their safety.”
The Sandy Hook event four ears ago in Newtown, Conn., was a wakeup call. Since then, and following the 2014 report, schools across Massachusetts have moved toward more of an options-based protocol, with most leveraging the A.L.I.C.E. model, which aims to empower individuals and maximize chances for survival by teaching age-appropriate methods for proactively handling an aggressive intruder.
“I’ve always felt it’s important to empower people to have options and to make ‘game-day’ decisions,” said Sudbury Police Chief Scott Nix. “The A.L.I.C.E. model has allowed us to formalize this options-based response philosophy. In our schools, it’s a matter of balancing the goal of providing a safe environment for learning with not being too militaristic about it.”
Instructors from the A.L.I.C.E. Training Institute in Sudbury emphasize that A.L.I.C.E. is not a sequential (A-to-E) model. Instead, it covers five different responses, and evacuation (the last letter in the acronym) is always preferable when possible.
As a key part of A.L.I.C.E. training, attendees have the opportunity to participate in real-life scenarios, such as being stuck in a classroom while an active shooter enters the building, as well as being in a crowded cafeteria or walking down a hallway. Attendees practice making quick decisions about whether evacuation is safe, and how best to use available objects to lock down a room (and create a physical barrier) or to physically distract an attacker so he or she can be disarmed.
Attendees also learn the importance of keeping everyone in the building aware and informed on the whereabouts of an attacker, via loudspeaker, radios, or whatever communication method is available – using clear language without jargon or code words.
Beyond schools
Active shooter emergencies are not confined to schools. They have taken place in malls, movie theaters and office buildings. Out of all workplace active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2013, about 46 percent occurred at businesses while 39 percent were at schools, 10 percent at government sites, and 2.5 percent at heath care facilities, according to a recent FBI report.
With this is mind, it makes sense for municipalities to expand active shooter response training to departments and to buildings beyond schools. Consider, for example, a shooting during a school board meeting in Florida a few years ago. An angry resident could walk into an unsecured town building or meeting at any time.
“In our community, we work with anyone who has concerns, whether it’s trying to ensure a safe learning, work or religious environment,” Nix said. “Every district needs to weigh their own goals, but it’s important to expand to other areas of the community.
“As a police chief, I can’t put blinders on to what could happen,” Nix added. “We have done trainings at day care centers, large corporations, and churches and temples. This has become an important life skill for everyone.”
MIIA provided a two-day A.L.I.C.E. training in Sudbury for free to its member communities. Other insurers may provide training on this or similar models, along with additional resources for school safety.
For more information about A.L.I.C.E., visit

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