Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2017. In light of recent attacks, we thought it might be a good time to revisit this excellent advice.
I have just completed the ALICE training course on dealing with an active-shooter situation. If your business has not gone through this, you need to get them on board. Immediately. This is simply some of the best training I have ever been through. And it does not involve using firearms at all.
We have all heard about the tragedies at Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora, and Virginia Tech, where active shooters massacred people. Sadly, this sort of thing is probably not going away any time soon. How should people caught in this situation respond? Not everyone is going to carry a gun. I am a concealed carry weapons instructor and strongly support the Second Amendment, but let’s face it, many people simply are not going to carry, and many should NOT carry a firearm.
Very, very few people will dedicate the necessary amount of time and training to be able to shoot an attacker without accidentally shooting innocent people. And even if you are armed and trained, it would be incredibly difficult to react fast enough to track down the killer and eliminate the threat. There is training, however, that uses our natural God-given abilities that even children can use — ALICE training.
“ALICE” is the acronym for a series of responses: Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate. You do not need to perform all of these responses, nor do you need to perform them in the order spelled out in the acronym. You do whatever your situation demands at the moment.
But before we get into the responses, take a look at the perpetrators in many or most of these tragedies. Usually, there is one shooter (quite often deranged, too), not very well trained in firearms. The individual is using (in many cases) a handgun. A pistol is much less accurate than a rifle. And what does the shooter often do when the police show up? He shoots himself or gives up. He is shooting unarmed people who are not fighting back… so the perp is generally not the most courageous person on the block.
What if everyone just scattered at the first shot? Do you know how incredibly difficult it is to shoot a moving target? I don’t want predictability. I want chaos and movement. It’s pretty hard to hit numerous targets all chaotically scattering at once. Here is a video of a man with a .38 caliber revolver shooting at another man — six times — and missing!
Lesson learned: MOVE! The perp was a lousy shot. Keep moving and you will increase your chances of survival. And if you run away, you will become a smaller target. The worst thing to do is stand still.
Yet that is what happened at Columbine and Sandy Hook. At Columbine High School the students were instructed to hide under desks. That is what they did in the library. They were told to stay there and wait “until help arrives.” We listened to the 911 call from the teacher in the library who told the students to stay still. They waited… four minutes and ten seconds until the two shooters showed up and killed ten students.
At one point in the 911 call, a student says, “can’t we just leave?” There was a door, right there in the library, that led to the outside. They could have all escaped, but instead, the students hid under desks, waiting for the killers to arrive.
At Sandy Hook, the shooter shot his way through the glass near the front door and into the office and killed the principal and the school psychologist. The school’s PA system was on, so everyone in the building heard the shooting. The teachers did what they were told to do: lock the door, turn out the lights, retreat into the bathroom.
The murderer broke into the first room, heard the children in the bathroom, and killed everyone. He did the same in the second room. When he came to the third room, one little boy, Jesse Lewis, yelled “RUN!” and several children ran right past the killer. He was so focused on what was directly in front of him that he did not see the six children run past him. They lived. The rest died.
And that brings up another very interesting bit of information. When someone is in a heightened state of anxiety or stress and is focusing on the one thing in front of him, he gets tunnel vision and cannot focus on anything else (like six kids running past him). Watch this video and follow the instructions carefully.
Did you follow the instructions? Did you notice anything else? I DIDN’T when I saw this for the first time! I was completely stunned when I later realized what I missed!! So… remember to do something, anything, to throw off the attacker’s plans. If dozens of people are running away in dozens of directions at the same time, he cannot focus on all of you.
Alert: The ALICE acronym begins with Alert. When we are at work, we should always be in a state of awareness that it may not be just another day. Listen to your instincts. Your mind is constantly picking up signals from your environment… and it may be telling you that something is out of place. Something is not right. If it doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t right. How attuned to your environment or people’s behavior are you? Please watch this video all the way to the end. It sure surprised me.
Can you spot trouble before it happens? Don’t forget the lesson of that video. Also, do you know gunshots when you hear them? At Virginia Tech, some people heard the gunfire but told themselves it was just a car backfiring or fireworks. A professor, Dr. Liviu Librescu, knew gunfire when he heard it (he was a Holocaust survivor). While others were trying to figure out how to respond, he immediately told all the students to jump out of the second-story window. Sixteen jumped and lived. Librescu died in a hail of bullets as he was blocking the door from the killer.
Not all guns sound alike. A .22 sounds a lot different from a 12-gauge shotgun or a 9mm pistol. Educate yourself and be alert.
Lockdown: This is the “hide” in “run/hide/fight” that many schools and businesses use. If you cannot get out, then shelter in place. But does that mean only to lock the door? Of course not. You MUST prevent the assailant from getting in. You can move heavy pieces of furniture like a desk in front of the door, for example.
In my ALICE training, the others and I worked as teams in drills to do this. If there is rope or 550 cord (have some in your room), tie it around the door and hold the rope at an angle away from the door. I did this and the “attacker” simply could not open the door no matter how hard he tried. Of course, stand at an angle away from the door so he cannot shoot you.
When the Virginia Tech killer tried to enter Room 205, the students had moved a desk to block the door. The killer could not enter; no one was shot in that room.
Inform: If you are on the PA system, clearly communicate to the whole building what is happening. Do not use code words. Do not say “Code Silver” or something cryptic like that. Say, “Active shooter in the building! This is not a drill. Active shooter from the entrance, approaching the south wing of the building,” or something similar.
Wherever you are, use your cell phone to clearly tell dispatchers where you are and what you have seen. Now would be a good time to learn the difference between revolvers and semi-automatic pistols, shotguns, and rifles. If you can accurately identify what kind of gun you saw, what the shooter was wearing, and what direction they were going, that would greatly help the police.
Counter: In a previous article, I said that if you have a gun, shoot the attacker.
Yes, if you are sufficiently trained and legally carry a firearm, you certainly have that option. However, remember… you cannot miss. You are responsible for every bullet that exits your gun. You must know that in all the commotion, there is a very real likelihood that you may shoot innocent bystanders.
If you are not armed, and the vast majority of people reading this will not be armed in such a situation, you can still counterattack and take out the bad guy. The attacker cannot react as fast as you can react. I proved that when the ALICE instructor gave me an empty airsoft pistol and told me to point the gun at his forehead and pull the trigger as soon as I saw his hands move.
Every single time I saw his hands move, I pulled the trigger. But it was too late. He had already grabbed the gun and pushed it out of the way. I could not react fast enough to his action. This action/reaction delay is also called the “OODA Loop.” OODA stands for observe, orient, decide, act. This is the pattern our mind follows. When we face something we have never experienced (like an active shooter) we will quite possibly freeze up because our mind is stuck on “observe” or “orient” but we’ve never trained to “decide” and then “act.”
Same goes for the shooter. He finally breaks through the barricade and enters the room, but as soon as he gets through the door he is hit by numerous flying objects coming at him (books, phones, coffee cups). What is his natural reaction? Flinch. Move his hands up to protect himself.
That is when you can swarm him and take him down to the ground. The instructor showed us how to do it, and we practiced it many times (sometimes without the “shooter” knowing that we were going to fight back). This tactic definitely works. Then you hold him down until the police arrive.
Jake Ryker was shot in the chest at a high school shooting in 1998. Amazingly, he got up and tackled the shooter and held him down until help arrived. (Ryker later joined the Marines and served well.)
What do you do? Counter. Throw. Tackle. Yell. Strike. Something to disorient the shooter and throw him off… or you will most surely be shot and probably die.
And what do you do with the gun? Put it in a trashcan. If you are holding it over the attacker, the police may not know you are the “good guy” — and you may get shot.
Evacuate: Know where all the exits are (not just doors, but windows). The bad guy cannot shoot you if you are not there. If you have a bunch of kids with you, tell them to run for it — and scatter. You can find them later. DON’T tell them to stay in one place. If you are in a hospital or nursing home, obviously, many of the people will not be able to get away. Your best option in that situation is to lock down and counter.
When you get in your car and drive to work, you perform hundreds of complex skills to get yourself there. You are not even conscious of it, probably. You have developed “unconscious competence” because you have done it over and over again. When it comes to protecting yourself against active shooters, your school or business or church should conduct these drills on a regular basis.
You have regular fire drills, right? Do these drills, too. The body cannot go where the mind has never been. Take your mind and body on these drills and practice. And learn how to save lives. Have ALICE instructors come to your business or school. To find out more about ALICE Training, go to www.alicetraining.com.