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Hero teachers at shooting in Lafayette movie theater

Active shooter response protocols

Perhaps the most tragic killing sprees are those which take place at schools, where the body count includes teenagers and children. Many academic institutions have implemented active shooter response training programs for teachers and staff as a result of gun violence in schools. The adoption of active shooter response programs by academic institutions has made teachers and educators, a group highly adept at responding to life threatening incidents.

On Saturday, July 25th, 2015, a man armed with a .40-caliber handgun bought a ticket to a 7:10 pm show at a theater in Lafayette, Louisiana. Twenty minutes into the show, the man stood up and started shooting into the rows directly before him. Two women ages 31 and 21 died instantly from gunshots wounds. Nine others were wounded before the attacker committed suicide inside of the theater. According to media reports, two of the surviving members of the audience were both school teachers at a local high-school.

When the shooter opened fire, the school teachers managed to drop to the floor. One of them, Jena Legnon-Meaux, commented afterwards that her first thought was to get low, “I’m sure that had something to do with the training that we had, the lock-downs.” Despite being shot in the leg, Jena managed to crawl to the theater exit, and make her way outside, where she screamed to alert nearby authorities of the shooting.  Ali Viator-Martin, also a teacher, was shot in the leg, yet she managed to reach and pull the nearest fire alarm, alerting all theater goers and staff.

Both teachers had received active shooter response training along with the rest of the staff at Jeanerette senior high-school. The principal at Jeanerette senior-high said that avoiding panic to take over is essential to properly responding during an active shooter incident, also adding that reacting becomes like “muscle memory.”

A.L.I.C.E. active shooter response protocol

A notable active shooter response protocol goes under the acronym A.L.I.C.E., which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate. ALICE, as stated by the official website, is the “first active shooter response program in the US.” Prior to to the creation of ALICE in 1999, the standard protocol against active shooters schools was to spread a code red over the PA (if available), take students into a classroom, lock the door, hide, and wait for the police to arrive. The concept for ALICE originated at a dinner table over a conversation on the subject of active shooters at schools between a police officer and a school teacher.

A – Alert. Use Specific Language. Avoid Code Words

During the Alert stage, teachers are trained to use any means available to communicate the potential threat, making sure the communication is as straight forward as possible. Use of plain language over code words is advised. The last thing you anyone needs is to get tongue tied trying to remember alert codes, or to blurt out a code to someone who’s unaware of its meaning. If there’s a gun in the building, don’t waste valuable time saying “code red,” instead, state in plain words, “there’s a man with a gun in the building.”

L – Lockdown. Barricade the room. Silence Mobile Devices. Prepare to Evacuate or Counter if Needed

If there is no safe way out of the building, the following step is Lockdown. Lockdown prepares the teachers for the event of meeting face to face with the aggressor. In Lockdown, the teacher leads the students into a classroom, locks the doors, turns the lights off, and makes sure everyone silences all mobile and electronic devices.
Prior to the conception of the ALICE program, Lockdown was the final step in the civilian’s opposition against a dangerous intruder. With prior methods, teacher and students are advised to wait for the authorities to arrive and take down the intruder. ALICE promotes a pro-active state of Lockdown, urging teacher and students to remain alert as to the whereabouts of the intruder and, to prepare to confront the intruder as a last resort.

I – Inform. Communicate the Shooter’s Location in Real Time

Informing as many people as it is safely possible about the location of the assailant is a way for civilians to “buy time.” If there are PA systems in the building, use them to give continuos updates on the intruder’s whereabouts and actions. Active shooters will use the element of surprise as their deadliest tool. Exchanging real-time information on the whereabouts and actions of the assailant weakens his/her strategy, and gives authorities time to arrive and take action against the intruder. According to ALICE training’s official website, “intruders work alone 98%.” In many cases, the people in the building will outnumber the intruder. The more information that is exchanged between the people inside the building, the more confusion this will create for the intruder. Sharing clear information will also give all people trapped inside time to prepare if the incident comes to a confrontation.

C – Counter. Create Noise, Movement, Distance and Distraction with the Intent of Reducing the Shooter’s Ability to Shoot

Counter is the principle which differentiates ALICE from intruder response trainings administered prior to 1999. ALICE advocates the role of the students and staff as defenders rather than victims. An armed intruder is most likely to expect his victims to be huddling in a corner. If Counter is properly executed, the assailant finds a group of people ready to fight back, shifting the element of surprise in favor of the “would-be victims.” The chances that an armed aggressor will hit a target are greaty reduced amidst noise and movement and if objects are flying in the intruder’s direction. According to ALCIE, throwing anything from books, to chairs may create a big enough distraction to give people in the room time to escape or even overtake the intruder. Neither inflicting injury, nor disabling, nor disarming the armed aggressor are the goals of ALICE and countering the intruder is only a last resort. This option should only be taken in the worst-case scenario, i.e. when a direct confrontation with an armed individual is innevitable.

E – Evacuate. When Safe to Do So, Remove Yourself from the Danger Zone

All the previous steps are ways to increase a person’s chance to avoid a direct encounter with an active shooter. ALICE does not advise civilians to seek an encounter with a dangerous intruder, its steps are ways to actively reduce the assailant’s chances of harming someone. This means that if the opportunity to evacuate the area and reach safety without harm presents itself, you should take it. Although ALICE does not guarantee that civilians will remain unharmed, its protocols provide a chance to reduce casualties.

New guidelines for pre-K safety

The creators of ALICE envision the program as a standard training protocol for all schools at pre-K level in hopes that anyone who studied pre-school in the US will know how best to react during an active shooter incident because they would have learned to alert, lockdown, inform, counter, and evacuate at the k-12 level.

In 2013, vice president Biden presented new guidelines for school safety in the view of shooting incidents in Columbine, CO; Newton, CT, and others. The guidelines stated that “those in harms way should make their own decisions.” While safety protocols increase chances of survival, shooter incidents do not follow a strict pattern. One cannot teach people to defer only a specific type of attack. ALICE, as well as the school safety guidelines published in 2013 provide only principles to protect one’s life.

The most relevant change in school safety protocols, and a testimony to our time, is the view of the individual from a victim, to a defender and protector of her own life. The heroic response of Jena Legnon-Meaux and Ali Viator-Martin from Louisiana is proof that an active role during life-threatening incidents can save one’s life as well as the lives of others.

To learn more about A.L.I.C.E, visit their official website.

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