we Need Survival Training to Survive Active Shooter Emergencies ran in the San Diego Union-Tribune on Dec 11, 2015.


The Need for Active Shooter Survival Training

*Columbine High School, Littleton, Colorado -- April 20, 1999: 13 killed, 23 wounded.

*Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia – April 16, 2007: 32 killed, 18 wounded.

*Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut – December 14, 2012: 26 killed.

*Umpqua Community College, Roseburg, Oregon – October 1, 2015: 10 killed, 7 wounded.


It takes law enforcement five to seven minutes on average to arrive at the scene of an active shooter incident. This can be an eternity to bystanders targeted by a person whose sole intent is to kill as many people as possible in a short period of time. This was brought to life when I participated in a recent active shooter survival training called “ALICE” (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate) at San Diego City College. Thirty-five school employees hid under tables, behind chairs, a desk, or a podium during a simulated classroom lockdown. Then two police officers came into the room hurling pieces of cork.

After two minutes, the training facilitator instructed us to come out from our hiding places. How many of us had been struck by cork? I raised my hand along with twenty-nine other people. In an active shooter incident, the cork would have been bullets. How did we feel during this simulation? Like helpless victims.

A “lockdown” is the traditional method of dealing with an emergency situation in a school. Doors and windows are locked, and lights are turned off while staff and students remain in the classroom. People cannot leave the school, and no one is allowed onto the campus. This intervention may be an effective response in most emergency situations, but in an active shooter incident, a lockdown may not be enough to deter a killer.

Our facilitator, a police dispatcher trained to teach ALICE response strategies, stressed that it is important to have multiple options when confronted with an active shooter incident. Over the next three-and-a-half hours, we learned survival skills: Put the campus police number on speed-dial in our cell phones. Use the red direct-dispatch button in classrooms and the emergency boxes throughout the college to alert and communicate with campus police. Know the location of every exit in all buildings. Inform others about a danger, and evacuate when it’s safe.

If it’s not possible to leave, jam the door with a belt, tie, shoe, or jacket to prevent an intruder from coming in. Barricade an entrance with a copying machine, desks, tables, or large objects. Position people in a room to counter someone who tries to break through a door. Use fire extinguishers, chairs, coffeepots, scissors, phones, and staplers as weapons. Shout and throw objects to distract a person’s aim. Swarm and tackle a shooter with five or more people to dislodge his weapon and immobilize him. Do not pick up the weapon but keep it out of the attacker’s reach. Cover it with an upside down trash can and safeguard it until first responders get to the scene.

The ALICE training was informative and experiential. We practiced jamming doors. We barricaded entrances. We split into three groups in different classrooms to see which teams could survive during an active shooter drill. We swarmed and took down a police officer posing as an assailant.  

I have been through elementary, middle, and high school. I have earned a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees in college, and I have worked in education for over twenty years. Yet, I had never been taught these survival skills before. Why aren’t we teaching this in every school and college? Sure, it’s important to learn how to read and write. Isn’t it just as important to learn how to stay alive?   


*CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/18/us/columbine-high-school-shootings-fast-facts/

*CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/31/us/virginia-tech-shootings-fast-facts/

*CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/07/us/connecticut-shootings-fast-facts/

*CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2015/10/01/us/oregon-college-shooting/


Active shooter resources:




Picture of gun by Frank Vincentz