ALICE, an options-based strategy

By Jeff Smith


Schools without a School Resource Officer might be on their own if an active killer or active shooter situation could occur. It could be 15-20 minutes before law enforcement will be on the scene. Seventy percent of school shooting incidents happen in five minutes or less.

The ALICE protocol helps students and staff be prepared for somebody who wants to cause harm. ALICE stands for “Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate.”

Sgt. Chris Hislip, with the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office, talked to the school board and other members of the community on April 9 before the regular school board meeting about ALICE and what is different about the strategy.

Hislip supervises the Pennington County school resource deputies. He said ALICE should only come into play when all of the other safeguards fail. This means that the current protocol is still a good practice but the main difference between ALICE and others is that the control is taken away from the attacker.

“You always have to have a plan and you want to change the tables on them,” Hislip said.

Action is better than reaction, he said.

Hislip said ALICE is not sequential but gives people options during active shooter or active killer situations.

Hislip explained that the “Run-Hide-Fight”system which has become popular is more linear and doesn’t deal with unique situations that are in schools.

The A, Alert, makes it important to know what is going on. Hislip said most people try to rationalize the noises of gunshots because they don’t think something like that could ever happen where they are. The Alert phase gives people as much information as possible.

Lockdown, L, is when people barricade doors with whatever is available.

Inform, I, prioritizes passing on  real time information. This means letting people know why a lockdown is happening.

He told people in attendance that they want to continually inform people on the situation so people know what to do and can make an informed decision. This would be through a school email, a phone call or even social media.

Another option is to evacuate. It might be better to leave the danger zone instead of just sitting and waiting.

C, counter, is the most controversial aspect of ALICE.

Hislip said this is doing things other than going toe-to-toe with the shooter to mess up their OODA LOOP. OODA Loop means to Observe, Orient, Decide and Act.

“This is a decision-making process that every human goes through in order to do something,” Hislip said.

Hislip said the counter method is usually not discussed in detail for Rapid City school children until the sixth grade.

Counter could mean doing anything to delay them or slow them down. Hislip discussed that it is important to make environments as chaotic as possible for the person who wants to cause harm.

ALICE also sets up rally points so people know where to go during an emergency situation. Once the threat is neutralized the police can help with accountability in making sure students are safe. But Hislip made the point that accountability is not as important as survivability.

Hislip said evacuate is the preferred measure as long as there is enough information to make a good decision.

The different skills taught with ALICE gives students a good chance of survival. Hislip said ALICE could be taught to everybody in Pre-K and up.

ALICE allows a school body to formulate a plan which is more active than what students have been doing.

“What we want to do is work with our students and go over this at an age appropriate level that will help address how to respond and what’s expected from the teacher,” Hislip said.

Hislip said people adopt ALICE after receiving two hours of training or online learning initially, then scenario-based training through the help or law enforcement.

“You actually get to feel and experience it if you are a kinesthetic learner,” Hislip said.

Drills are done with ALICE to let students know what they don’t have to sit patiently.

Hislip said if schools practice realistic scenarios and they have learned good habits they can just react and not think about it much.

“The wrong decision is doing nothing,” said Hislip.

Hill City Schools could purchase the whole program for less than $5,000. In fact, between the school buildings it would cost about half of that.

There were some school board members who showed interest in having a school resource officer.

Toward the end of the discussion there was a question asked about arming teachers and if that would be a viable option.

Hislip said teachers bringing guns to school will present unique challenges. He didn’t give stance over whether it would be good or not but said the teachers wouldn’t have the same amount of training as officers. Police officers also miss their target 80 percent of the time in a crisis situation and teachers are not going to do well in those situations either.

Police are also not going to ask questions if they show up to school and there is somebody holding a gun, they are going to shoot. Even if the person is a good guy and trying to stop the shooter, law enforcement is trained to shoot anyone in school with a gun.

Overall, the focus should be on prevention of school shooting incidents. Schools across the country are developing strict guidelines to prevent bullying and harassment.

Hislip did mention that School Resource Officers (SRO) can better respond to threats and reports made which might be better than an administrator handling

“SROs are there more for prevention than response,” Hislip said.