Active shooter training teaches how to fight back against gunman
GOLDEN, Colo. — The gunman paced the hallways of the charter school, passing framed paintings of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson before stopping outside classroom 138. There, he took a deep breath, yanked open the door and began firing.
“Shooter!” shouted someone inside the classroom. “He has a gun!”
Two people seated at desks near the door jumped up and rushed the perpetrator, pinning his legs and arms against a wall, while everyone else sprinted out. It was over in 15 seconds and tiny yellow Nerf balls sprayed from the toy rifle littered the room. One of the men who rushed the gunman was struck in the thigh by a ball, a reminder of the personal danger involved in confronting an armed assailant.
The recent exercise was part of a two-day, $700 active shooter training course being offered at schools and churches across the country by an Ohio-based firm founded soon after the 1999 Columbine High School shooting rampage, which took place just a few miles from here. The ALICE Training Institute, whose instructors have law enforcement or military backgrounds, provides courses for educators, church workers and small-business employees concerned about how to react in case catastrophe strikes.
In packets handed out at its training sessions, the company says its aim is to empower “individuals to participate in their own survival using proactive response strategies in the face of violence.”
ALICE — which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate — was established by a retired police officer and has held sessions in roughly 3,700 K-12 school districts nationwide, as well as more than 1,300 healthcare facilities. Dozens of companies across the U.S. offer training for dealing with active shooters.
Standard shelter-in-place advice — “locks, lights and out of sight” — came into vogue after Columbine, when two students killed a teacher and 12 schoolmates. But that has been changing since federal education officials issued a report in 2013 suggesting staff (not students) should seek to counter shooters as a last resort.
While there’s no official database tracking instructional methods, the focus of courses across the nation has been shifting to a more “optionsbased” approach, analysts say.
Many trainers now promote a less passive philosophy that includes running, if possible, and fighting back, if warranted. Companies acknowledge the potential for death or injury, but say that declining to act can itself carry grave risks.
“Having a plan can mean the difference in life or death,” Andrea Nester, an ALICE instructor, told her class of about two dozen school officials, hospital workers and small-business owners.
On a recent afternoon inside Golden View Classical Academy, Nester — a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq — asked the students, “Why are you all here? Just blurt it out.” “Workplace violence,” one man replied. “Too many mass shootings,” said a woman. “They never seem to end.”
To safety consultant Rene Flores, who had traveled from Texas, attending the class felt like a necessity. He thought of El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, he said, where 22 people were shot to death last month at a Walmart and nine more at a nightclub, respectively. Days later, seven apparently random people were killed on the streets of Midland and Odessa, Texas, when a gunman hijacked a U.S. Postal Service van and went on a rampage.
At this point, nearly 300 Americans have been slain in mass shootings this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a Washington-based nonprofit. The group defines such shootings as those in which four or more victims are shot or killed.
Timm Petersen, center, Vice Principal of Golden View Classical Academy, a charter school in Golden, Colorado, participates in a demonstration during an active shooter training session with the ALICE Training Institute held at the school on Aug, 29.