As he watched the events of the Columbine High School shooting unfold in April 1999, Greg Crane realized a hard truth. No matter how hard we train, we won’t get there in time, he thought as he watched the horrific footage during what was, at the time, the worst mass school shooting in history.
As a career police officer for the Dallas/Fort Worth Police Department, Crane knew all too well what it was like to be the officer responding to tragedy. But as the details of the shooting emerged, Crane knew more could be done to help people survive during an active shooter situation. And his mission was personal too: His wife was the principal of the elementary school his children attended when Columbine unfolded.
“When I asked my wife what she was trained to do in an emergency or active shooter situation, she said ‘Hide and wait until help gets there,’” Crane tells Scary Mommy. “That’s when I knew something had to change.”
According to Crane, he focused on the five to six minutes it usually takes for law enforcement to arrive and contain an active shooter. “I thought to myself, what’s the capacity of youngsters to learn how to make decisions in the moment that could save their lives?”
Crane reached out to his self-proclaimed “SWAT team buds,” and together, they started researching programs aimed at helping students and teachers better protect themselves during active shooter situations. But their search proved futile: There were no programs in existence that trained victims to be proactively involved with their survival during an active shooter situation.
And that’s how ALICE training was born.
ALICE, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate, was the first training program in the country that provided staff and students with an option-based response to an active shooter gaining entry to a school, business, or organization. Initially, the acronym was “LICE,” but as Crane jokes, “My wife told me I wouldn’t get very far with bringing LICE to schools.” Crane and his team honed their approach and made their first presentation of the program in early 2001.
The ALICE program is designed to give students a variety of options based on the circumstances in front of them. And though the letters spell the name “Alice,” the steps are not meant to be chronological.
“The number one priority is to use whatever is necessary at the time to save your life,” Crane says. ALICE training helps kids decide the best course of action and allows them to be proactive, rather than “sitting ducks” or “hitting the deck” in an active shooter situation.
Alert is initial awareness of a potential danger. The warning can be from your senses or an announcement from the school staff that a shooter has entered the building.
Lockdown is “not dismissed as a safety tool in ALICE training. It’s just not policy,” says Crane. Sometimes, depending on the situation, sheltering in place is the best option, Crane stresses.
Inform is the organization of efforts to keep people informed. “That includes real time cameras, PA systems, and social media,” says Crane. He stresses that real time cameras should be used while the shooter is in the school, not in the aftermath, to help direct evacuation efforts.
Counter is the act of using noise, movement, and distance to distract the shooter. “Even the act of throwing a book or a pencil can throw a shooter’s focus, and his eye is no longer focused on the target,” says Crane. He stresses that kids are not taught to throw objects with intent to harm. Rather, throwing an object in the shooter’s sight line creates a distraction that decreases the shooter’s accuracy.
Evacuate not only means leaving the building but the act of moving and creating distance also decreases a shooter’s accuracy. “Simply put, it’s harder to hit a moving target,” says Crane.
Not surprisingly, Crane received pushback from critics about ALICE. He says, during the first few years, ALICE was a tough sell because the program flew in the face of what had been considered the “traditional” way to deal with an active shooter: lockdown.
Crane points out, “A lockdown makes sense when the danger is outside of the school. But when a shooter is in your school, he has control as soon as the building is locked down.” For several years, Crane struggled to convince school districts of the merits of ALICE.
Crane says, however, everything changed in 2006 after the Amish school shooting in Lancaster, PA. And shortly thereafter, the Virginia Tech shootings happened in 2007.
Suddenly, law enforcement officers, parents, and school administrators took notice of Crane’s revolutionary approach.
“And ALICE just took off from there,” Crane tells Scary Mommy.
What started out as a single program in his wife’s elementary school has grown into 3,400 of the 14,000 school districts in the U.S. being ALICE trained. And further, over 4,000 police departments across the country offer ALICE training in their communities.
One school district that is utilizing ALICE is the Nazareth Area School District in Nazareth, PA. According to Nazareth High School principal Alan Davis, the district worked closely with the school board to bring ALICE training to their students and staff because “ALICE training is a life skill that you can use anywhere, long after a student graduates from high school.” He says that students, staff, and administrators welcomed the proactive approach, and overall, the response has been positive.
Nazareth Intermediate School principal Joseph Yanek echoes Davis’ sentiments. His students are fourth- through sixth-graders, and though it was initially thought that the training would scare the students, the opposite has been the case. “Students are excited that they can be helpers in an emergency, and they feel empowered to take care of themselves should the situation arise,” says Yanek.
Both principals agree that ALICE training will save the lives of many in their district should the unthinkable happen. “ALICE training increases the chance of survival in the first five minutes of an active shooter, and that’s invaluable,” says Davis.
Nazareth sixth-grader Genevieve Burke agrees. She says, “ALICE training makes me feel strong, and I know that I’ll be able to come home to my parents if a bad guy comes into the school.”
Crane can think of no better endorsement of his efforts over the last 17 years than when kids tell him they feel safer because of ALICE. “Those are the stories that keep us going, the ones where kids tell us they feel safer,” he says.
If you are interested in bringing ALICE training to your school district, click here.