• Heather Ferrer


If you do, or do not have a plan in place for such an occasion, please read below to learn vital information about why you need to evaluate and re-evaluate your thinking about and your plan for the event of an attack.



In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.

Theodore Roosevelt


Recently I had the fortunate opportunity to attend ALICE training for non-profit organizations. Not only was the training informative, it was also very revealing in regard to how under-prepared many of us are when it comes to armed intruder and active shooter situations. 

Let’s start with some statistics. Since 2000, there are have been 277+ active shooter incidents reported and documented in the United States. Overall, incidents have been on the increase, with a total of 2,430 casualties resulting from these incidents.  According to FBI reports, 4% or 11 total of these incidents occurred at Houses of Worship. And as seen in the news, these numbers are only rising. 

Figure 1: Active Shooter Incidents, 2000-2018

Figure 2 – Casualties (Death and Injury) Per Year, 2000-2018

Figure 3 – Active Shooter Incident Location Categories, 2000-2018

What can we learn from these statistics? Incidents are on the rise and it is important that we do our best to be prepared. 

A national law enforcement survey presented at the training I attended revealed that the majority of church facilities do not have an active shooter protocol in place or that they have a protocol that is outdated and does not reflect an understanding of the current researched best-practices. In fact, the ALICE program, itself, was founded largely based on the response mishaps that occurred during the Columbine shooting. Founder Greg Crane was compelled to establish the program as he watched events unfold and realized that even his wife, a local primary school principal, had the mentality that a school’s first, best and only response was to, “...lock down and wait for [police] to arrive.” 

This thought process mirrors the line of thinking for most people today. Lock down and wait for police is what is widely taught and accepted in most facilities. However, it is a way of thinking that has been proven to be both faulty and dangerous. For example, with the Columbine incident (as well as others) students who locked down, or who were instructed to lock down and shelter in place, proved to be the most vulnerable, whereas those students who escaped and evacuated survived.  

Compounding these issues is the time frame in which these events occur. Studies have shown that an active shooter incident, from start to finish, lasts, on average, 2 to 5 minutes. This means that from the beginning of the attack until the shooter is done and gone, a period of approximately 2 to 5 minutes elapses. On the other hand, police response time, on average, is at best within 5 to 23 minutes, and perhaps longer in more rural areas. Taking Columbine as an example again: faculty called police around 11:30 am and the first responders did not enter the school until about 3:30 pm. 

These facts and realizations sparked the initiative to establish the ALICE organization. ALICE training is focused on equipping schools, organizations and businesses to respond to and, in fact, realize their need to in essence be the first responders in an active shooter incident.  The main idea behind the training is to prepare people to be proactive: to have a plan in place and to practice the plan regularly at their facility. The idea is that being proactive results in a higher survivability. Bottom line, having no workable and/or practiced plan leads to a more unfavorable outcome. 


The ALICE program emphasizes common sense, not just common knowledge. ALICE stands for Alert, Lock down, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. Although this is the acronym, emphasis was placed on it NOT being a linear program (I.e. not necessarily the exact order with which to respond in all situations). Instead, the acronym represents ALL the possible ways to respond in an active shooter situation, and that what is happening in your location determines which options are best. 

Here is a breakdown of the specifics for each part of the acronym.


The purpose of ALERT is to get the word out that there is a potentially life-threatening situation occurring. To alert is to use plain and specific language to warn as many as possible about the danger or emergency. Methods of alerting include text, email, two-way radios, PA systems, apps, and/or simply your voice and body gestures. No one method should be relied upon entirely, however, regardless of method, the goal is to convey information, NOT give commands

FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) and ALICE, all endorse PLAIN and SPECIFIC language. Utilizing plain language and NOT code words ensures a more informed and knowledgeable response. It ensures the information is understandable and not confusing. Understanding a situation empowers each person on-site to make “in-the-moment" decisions regarding the best option to maximize their chance of survival. Not everyone in your facility will know what CODE RED means or the protocol for response to code words, but everyone understands “Active Shooter at the front door making his way up to the auditorium”. It may seem like this will create more havoc than help, but when training and regular practice occur, higher survivability and significantly better response is the researched and proven result. 

In addition to those on-site, authorities also need to be alerted. A phone call is one way. There are, however, other options available. Two apps (Active911 and Share911) now provide a way for you to not only alert the police and fire departments immediately, but to also alert others on-site in your security “team” at the same time. These apps connect everyone with the app to a message thread. It’s real-time sharing that allows you to tell second-to-second location of the threat, specifics about the threat, and any moment-to-moment changes. This gives everyone, including the police, the best opportunity to respond in the most effective and appropriate way. Do you have a way to alert your people? Is there an intercom or PA system at your facility, or do you provide two-way radios to leaders, ushers, coordinators and security personnel in order to coordinate alerts and responses in the case of an emergency? If you do not, then, consider how one of these options can be implemented. Although most people now-a-days have smartphones, phones, by themselves, allow only limited connectivity during fast-paced situations. 


This response is often what we think of when it comes to an active shooter event. It is what has traditionally been taught and can often seem like the most common-sense thing to do: shelter in place and wait for the police. Although this may be the right response in certain situations, studies have shown that this is an outdated and detrimental “go-to” strategy in many instances. Simply locking down in absentia of other more appropriate options has shown to create more casualties than survivors. 

That being said, there are certainly instances that warrant this response. If the danger is in too close of proximity to escape, then lock down may be the best option.

Factors to consider during a lock down:

  • Lock and barricade the doors.

  • Block the windows to prevent visual contact by intruder. 

  • Prepare yourself to evacuate or to counter, if necessary. 

The option to lock down is important in the event of a violent intruder, but there must concurrently be a secure starting point from which decisions can be made. In addition, the infrastructure must be in place in order to provide the best possible outcome (e.g. shatterproof glass on doors and windows, doors that lock from the inside, curtains to block line-of-sight into windows and doors, outlets providing an escape route if necessary, etc.). 

This training program presents scenarios where lock down is preferable.  But reliance on lock down alone, significantly endangers occupants in a violent intruder situation. Traditional lock down can often create easily identified targets as well as make a shooter’s job easier.  Again, ALICE training offered instruction on techniques for barricading with available resources, how and when to communicate with police/emergency personnel, best use of mobile or electronic devices, and use of lock down time in order to prepare for other measures, such as countering or evacuating, if the intruder gains entry.


Inform is the continuation of ALERT. It is: who they are, where they are and what they are doing. The goal of informing is to communicate the intruder’s location and direction in real time. Informing uses all possible means necessary to distribute real time information. Calls to 911, Two-way radio communication, and PA announcements are a few of the options available to inform. Video surveillance can allow for the gathering of information to announce. In an effective emergency response plan, there should be at least 2 methods for informing. For many houses of worship, two-way radios distributed to pertinent personnel (leadership, kids class coordinators, ushers, security, etc) has become an option. Radios are distributed before an event and then collected at the end for charging in a secure location. 

In an active shooter situation, knowledge is the key to survival. Information given should be very clear, communicating the location of the intruder and the possible danger. Broadcasting information effectively can keep the intruder off balance because they may realize they no longer have the element of surprise on their side. Informing also gives people on location more time to make the most appropriate decisions (e.g. lock down and barricade or evacuate to safety). If an intruder is known to be in one section of the building, the occupants closest can lock down, barricade, and prepare to counter, while those further from harm can evacuate to safety.



Counter is just as it sounds – counter the attack through noise, movement, creation of distraction or distance. It does NOT mean to fight or take on the intruder. Confronting or fighting a shooter is not a safe or wise practice. Countering is an attempt to throw the shooter off-balance and decrease their ability to shoot accurately. ALICE Training does not endorse actively confronting an intruder. Instead, it has been shown that creating an ever-changing or dynamic environment decreases focus and accuracy on the part of the shooter and improves the ability for potential victims to evacuate. Countering involves utilizing resources on-hand to defend yourself. It is the last-ditch effort to put as much of a barrier as possible between you and the assailant. Examples include, but are not limited to: throwing items such as books, chairs, shoes, etc., at the shooter or toward the shooter or in the air to distract, making loud sounds and diverting attention elsewhere, shoving furniture at the shooter, jumping on top of intruder as a group to restrain and remove the weapon. As a side note – emphasis was placed on NOT picking up the weapon, but kicking it a safe distance away. If someone were to see you with the weapon, they may mistake you for the culprit, or, worst-case-scenario, you could injure yourself.  ALICE, in no situation, endorses fighting a violent intruder. In the end, counter is about survival and an attempt to gain control with any means possible. In these types of scenarios, any method is acceptable. 

One last, very important component of countering, is the monitoring and reporting of suspicious activity. This activity could be on social media, face-to-face interchanges, emails, texts, etc. Any and all threatening or suspicious activity needs to be reported. In almost all prior active shooter events, the threat of the event was indicated prior to it occurring. Many events may have or could have been prevented by reporting and effectively confronting the individual or individuals with the proper authorities. 


Evacuation is the primary goal in the event of an armed intruder. Evacuating the premises, when it is safe to do so, removes people completely from the threat. Instinct tells us to fight, flee or freeze – all options that are an attempt to get away from or hide from danger. Often, as stated above, our go-to response is to hide and lock down.  However, ALICE research has shown that, if the option is a safe one and it is available, planned and practiced evacuation, results in the most significant survival rate in the event of a shooter. It prevents face-to-face confrontation and therefore eliminates the need to employ further techniques such as lock down, barricade and counter.  ALICE training goes over the when’s and how’s of evacuation best-practices, including how best to break windows to avoid additional harm (from the top corner instead of middle), as well as strategies for first floor and higher floor evacuations, rally points, communication with authorities and first aid administration. 


In the end, the training emphasized that the best preparation is to be proactive. Below is a summary of some of the measures you can take in order to do this.

  1. Create your safety committee.

  2. Survey your facility. What do you have in place and what do you not? Ask local police to help you evaluate and assess your infrastructure.

  3. Have a plan that is known and PRACTICED. Preparation and practice make permanent. Make certain that your members and visitors, leaders and kids class teachers know what to do and that all of them practice what to do, regularly. In several cases, churches inform the congregation at the beginning of the service as to where exits are located.  In addition, most school facilities are practicing once a month. We should be doing similarly.

  4. Review and modify your plan, as needed.

  5. Train your staff.

  6. Upgrade your infrastructure, if necessary. As mentioned above, have an alert system in place. Have leaders and coordinators download “Active911” onto their phones, implement a two-way radio system or intercom, and install security cameras. It is easy enough to provide a set of two-way radios for pertinent personnel during events at the facility. Leaders, ushers, kids class coordinators, and anyone in charge, on location, should be provided with a radio that is connected to all of the others. This provides the means for alerting and informing. Check the locking ability of all doors in your facility. Have safety doors that lock from the inside and shatterproof glass installed. Although they may not completely stop a shooter, they can certainly slow one down, or be a deterrent. 

  7. Consider hiring security personnel for events at your facility. Some houses of worship are now employing off-duty police officers or security personnel to be on-site during times of worship, as well as other events. Studies have shown that simply having a person who is visible to anyone entering the facility grounds, is a huge deterrent to anyone planning to carry out an attack. 

  8. Monitor your social media. In most active shooter situations, the perpetrator had made himself and his intentions known prior to the event. In several of the situations, people overlooked the comments, did not take them seriously, or they assumed that someone else would do something about it. Be aware of what people are saying on your sites and alert the appropriate authorities if there is anything suspicious. In addition, any and all threats made in any way, social media or not, should be taken seriously. 

  9. Know who in your congregation can and does legally carry a weapon. Let me first emphasize that having members who carry CAN NOT be your only plan. It is vitally important that a workable plan for ALL people is in place and is practiced regularly. However, that being said, it is important to note that armed intruder scenarios have historically had better outcomes when there are people on-site who are trained to deal with these types of scenarios. 

The ALICE website ( ) includes multiple printable resources, how to schedule a training session, as well as resources for preparation before, during and after an armed intruder event.  Another resource worth utilizing for your facility is FEMA’s guide for plan development ( ).