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Program teaches alternative responses to school shootings

December 17th, 2013 8:36 am by By Dave Scott, Akron Beacon Journal (MCT)

Program teaches alternative responses to school shootings

An Arapahoe County, Colo., Sheriff's Department deputy, left, talks to an unidentified man outside the west entrance to Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colo., on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

AKRON, Ohio — As a special weapons and tactics police officer in Texas back in the ’90s, Greg Crane thought he was providing state-of-the-art protection.

Then two youths with guns entered Columbine High School in Colorado and started shooting. There was a police officer assigned to the school and a SWAT team on the way, but the death toll rose. Twelve dead and 24 injured.

Crane knew it was time for reform.

“When Columbine happened, that was our realization that no matter how hard we trained, we just can’t get there in time,” he said at his Medina offices recently.

He turned to his wife, Lisa, a teacher, to learn how educators were trained to handle intruders.

Her response surprised him:

“She explained the sitting-in-the-corner-waiting-until-you-get-there response, and I said, ‘You’ve got to do more than that. If contact is made, you can’t just sit there.’ So that started the conversation about what is the civilian side of the equation.”

Soon after that, he created ALICE, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. It’s a controversial program that instructs teachers, administrators and even students how to pro-actively protect themselves from intruders.

It’s controversial because, as a last resort, it tells potential victims to rise up and attack the assailant. But the first rule is to run away from trouble.

A year after 26 children and adults died at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., he feels even more passionately about giving educators an alternative to exclusively calling for lockdowns, which he considers passive.

For Crane and hundreds of police departments that have adopted the program, the stress is on telling victims there are many ways to react, depending on the circumstances.

“In our mind, getting away from the danger should be the priority,” he said.

Hiding in a room, under a desk, might work, but it is not absolute, he said.

At Sandy Hook, many children were shot as they tried to hide.

“People died sitting down. But why were they sitting down when they were killed? Was that a natural response or was that a conditioned response? I’ll tell you, in my opinion, it was a conditioned response because that’s what they were trained to do to stay safe.”

ALICE empowers teachers to assess the situation and make the best decision based on their experience, training and conditions they face.

“We’ve been allowing this suggestion that sitting in a corner and being passive is the best thing and the only thing that you can do,” he said. “Go ask a hundred police officers how many of them have told their kids that in contact with a violent individual I want you to be passive. And how many times do you think you will get an affirmative response to that question? I have asked tens of thousands of police officers that question over the last 12 years, and every one has said, ‘I told my kid to try to get the hell out of there.’ ”

Instead of one choice, Crane offers many.

“I can’t tell you what you have to do, because every situation is going to be unique,” he said. “There’s going to be different variables, different infrastructure. The age group of the people we are dealing with. There are so many variables that the best we can do is tell people what the spectrum is as far as options and I empower you then based on your situation. You are going to have to decide your best option.”

In some cases, it’s best to run. Sometimes they must barricade a room and hide. As a last resort, ALICE calls for the teacher, administrators and even the children to attack. That is a source of controversy. Some parents, educators and even police can’t accept the idea of children rising up against an attacker.

Even kindergartners get instruction on what to do when threatened, usually in the same gentle context they learn about “stranger danger” and fire drills.

The Department of Homeland Security incorporates some of ALICE’s principles in its Run Hide Fight program.

Many schools believe locking down the facility and waiting for help remains the best policy.

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©2013 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

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