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What would you do if confronted with a gunman? Local teachers, law enforcement receive active shooter response training

What would YOU do if confronted by a man or woman holding a loaded gun? Staff and administrators from a half dozen area school districts, along with local and regional law enforcement officers, took part in a two-day active shooter response training session at Rossman Elementary School this past week. (Adobe Stock photo)

It's something no one really wants to think about, but with active shooter situations at public schools, shopping malls, movie theaters, even music concerts and summer festivals on the rise, knowing how to respond when an armed gunman comes through the front door – or a sniper takes aim from above – is something that many public officials are beginning to take all too seriously.

This past week, staff and administrators from school districts in Detroit Lakes, Frazee-Vergas, Lake Park-Audubon, Perham, New York MIlls and Nevis, along with law enforcement officers from not only DL and Becker County, but also Cloquet, Fond du Lac, and even Winnipeg, Canada, spent two days at Rossman Elementary School learning how to do just that – and to then go back to their schools and law enforcement centers and teach others how to do it as well.

Their instructor, Steve Dudak, is a former Iowa state trooper who recently left behind a 23-year career in law enforcement to become a certified ALICE trainer.

"The ALICE Training Institute (ATI) was formed in 2001," said Dudak during a break in the two-day training session on Wednesday. "The company has a simple mission statement — to save more lives."

ALICE, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate, was the first training program in the U.S. that provided staff and students with an option-based response to an active shooter gaining entry to a school, business, organization or other public venue.

What this means, Dudak explained, is that ALICE training participants learn to respond proactively, rather than passively, to an active shooter situation — not necessarily to fight back, but to choose the best response in a given situation for keeping casualties to an absolute minimum.

"The goal for everything is casualty mitigation," he said. "You want to keep that number (of casualties) as low as possible in the event of a crisis situation."

Dudak went on to explain the five different components of ALICE training.

"The Alert phase is just that – alerting people who may be in the local area, whether it's via PA (public address) or text outreach, or some other means," he said. "It starts with identifying the problem and communicating it to everyone else who is involved or directly affected.

"You want to make sure you're giving some sort of descriptive information, not just saying, 'We're in trouble,'" Dudak continued. "Give a brief description of the person, where they're located, and any other information you have about them."

The next phase, Lockdown, is one that most public school staff and law enforcement officials are already familiar with, he added – but ALICE training "takes it a step further."

"Lockdown is the norm – that dictated, passive response that has pretty much been ingrained in everyone," said Dudak. "Lockdown is basically locking the door, turning off the lights, shutting the blinds... the ALICE concept takes it a step further. We throw in a barricade.

"What we call lockdown includes securing your area, using barricading techniques such as chairs, desks, or tables to control your area and block out the actual violent intruder, (thus) protecting or saving lives," he added.

"The next phase, Inform, is a continuation of the Alert process — an ongoing, fluid activity," Dudak said.

As the shooter progresses from the front entrance into the building, ALICE trainees are taught, they need to continue communicating through whatever means available to track the shooter's progress – where they're going and what they're doing as they travel through the building or venue.

"What's unique about ALICE training is we tell them to use non-coded verbiage," said Dudak. "Instead of saying Code Blue, Code Red, Code Black... use plain language. [Communicate] in such a way that there's no doubt what's happening."

The next phase, Counter, is one that is sometimes misinterpreted, he continued.

"What we want to make sure people understand is that 'counter' does not mean fight back," said Dudak. "Truly, ATI's version of 'counter' is not fighting back... [it's] a strategic tactic where we are causing delay and confusion to the attacker. That's the goal."

First, trainees are taught to delay and confuse their attacker via "brain overstimulation." One example of that, Dudak said, is to disrupt the attacker's decision-making process, known as an "OODA loop."

"OODA stands for observe, orient, decide, and act," he continued. "If we can interrupt or delay a shooter's OODA loop, then we have succeeded."

Another way for an individual to take back control from their attacker is by using a strategic military tactic known as "the swarm technique."

"There is no simple way for me to explain that in a few words," Dudak said, but added that, as the word "swarm" implies, the technique does involve a group of people working together, "to physically overpower the shooter and take them to the ground."

The final ALICE training phase, Evacuate, is also pretty self-explanatory, he added.

"If it is safe to do so and it is the option that works best for you in that situation, then you evacuate – safely.

"As an example, in a school, if all the classrooms full of students and teachers are in one wing, and something happens at the front doors, what we teach is, you take a peek out the (classroom) door to see if it's safe, and if it is, you may evacuate the space or room you're in and head for an exit, away from the threat."

Once they exit the building, the students and teachers will then move toward the nearest predetermined rendezvous location, referred to as a "rally point," and wait until the threat has been eliminated and they are given the "all clear" to either return to the building or leave the scene.

Detroit Lakes School Superintendent Doug Froke, who was one of the 200-plus people who took part in this week's training sessions, said it was an invaluable experience.

"It was very enlightening," he said. "It makes you realize, we really need to start thinking differently (about school safety)."

For instance, Froke said, the location of the administrative offices in both the middle and high school buildings is far enough away from the main entrance area to pose a considerable security problem.

Dudak added that, in addition to receiving training in the ALICE response techniques, participants in this past week's training also received instruction in how to teach others those same techniques.

While ALICE training at the middle and high school level must be done with a certified instructor, he explained, elementary staff who have received ALICE instruction can teach students a modified, "age appropriate" form of the response training.

Since it was formed, ATI has become one of the leading active shooter civilian response training companies in the U.S. Its instructors teach courses like the one held in Detroit Lakes this past week at locations all across the country. For more information, please visit www.alicetraining.com.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 17 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454