ALICE training gets kicked in the can: Alabama principal’s call for students to throw canned food to knock out gunmen gets nationwide, international skepticism

Posted by on January 15, 2015

Alabama middle school principal Priscella Holley’s letter sent to parents last week saying that the school will be “arming our students with a canned food item” to “stun the intruder or even knock him out until police arrive” has triggered national and international skepticism.

Holley, the principal of W.F. Burns Middle School in Valley, Alabama, in a January 9, 2015, letter to parents and guardians wrote: “We are asking each student to bring an 8 oz. canned food item (corn, beans, peas, etc.) to use in case an intruder enters their classroom.” She further told parents, “The canned food item will give the students a sense of empowerment to protect themselves and will make them feel secure in case an intruder enters their classroom.” (See the original letter and more details in this Daily News article.)

School officials have attributed this tactic to the controversial ALICE Training. ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate.

ALICE Training tactic garners national and international skepticism, mockery

Traditional and social media has been buzzing with skepticism and mockery of the direction of this principal and the ALICE training program tactic that children should be armed with canned food goods to “knock out” a gunman.

One of the humorous quips came from an article by George Mathis in the Atlanta Journal Constitution in which Mathis referenced an Atlanta 2-day ALICE training program for $495 and noted that he assumed some Georgia schools might prefer “arming kids with peaches in heavy syrup.”

It has been more than three years now since I first raised serious concerns about ALICE training, in particular the “Counter” measure. I have firmly and vocally spoken my belief that there are serious concerns and risks associated with the Counter component of ALICE training and similar programs such as the “run-hide-fight” theory promoted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Among those concerns are age and developmental issues, special needs children (emotional and behavioral disorders, autistic, medically fragile, mobility impaired and more), and the scope and depth of training methodology in child-centered organizations.

For a more detailed discussion see:

ALICE & Run-Hide-Fight Training: Teaching Students to Attack Gunmen

School Security Blog articles on attacking armed intruders

Just like a food recipe using canned soup and other food, the devil is in the details of implementation. What sounds good on the label may actually leave a bad aftertaste by the time the cook is finished.

Perhaps the best and most reasonable message in Principal Holley’s letter to parents is that if the cans are never used, they will be donated to a local food pantry at the end of the school year. Of course we assume they will only do so if the dates on the cans have not expired and if they have not been dented during ALICE Training practice drills.

Throwing soup cans not limited to Alabama ALICE Training implementation

In a June of 2013 blog, I asked if, “Do ALICE training tactics put students, teachers at risk?” In one of a half dozen examples of highly questionable tactics I have encountered with ALICE training implementation, I noted:

A Wisconsin police officer told me earlier this week that at one school in his jurisdiction, where a number of school staff were sent to A.L.I.C.E. training separate from his department, elementary students were told to keep a can of soup in their desks to throw at an intruder if a gunman entered their classroom;

A number of ALICE advocates have distanced themselves from and downplayed this example when I have shared it nationally. Now the Alabama principal’s letter provides some concrete evidence that this ALICE tactic is not only real, but it also appears to be officially sanctioned by ALICE trainers and founders.

In fact, some ALICE training instructors appear to be proud of the tactic. Bob Renzi, an ALICE instructor and retired teacher in Pennsylvania, sent an email this evening attacking me for criticizing such “options-based” training and referred to this particular tactic as “Canning.” Glad to know we now have a formal, weird name for a weird, questionable and controversial tactic.

Questions raised about injuries, lawsuits from options-based training

In October of 2013, I shared concerns in a blog article about students and educators risking injury by ALICE training and run-hide-fight training:

  •  An Ohio elementary principal reported breaking her shoulder at an A.L.I.C.E. Training session earlier that year. In an unsolicited message to me from her school district email, the principal stated:

“I recently broke my shoulder during ALICE training. As an elementary principal, this is not the sort of thing one would expect during professional development.”

  • A training officer in Missouri was reportedly knocked into a door jamb, rebounded off of it and was nearly unconscious with a laceration on his nose bridge during A.L.I.C.E. training. In an online post-training survey for a Missouri school district that conducted A.L.I.C.E. training, the respondent commented:

“The force Mr. XXXXX’s blow was of such intensity that the training officer was knocked into the door jamb and rebounded off of it and out the door into the hall. Nearly unconscious and bleeding from a laceration on the bridge of the nose it was several minutes before he could compose himself and move onto the next classroom of teachers where he informed them that, “The role playing is just an exercise”!  [Participant’s name was substituted with X’s for purposes of this article.]

Another evaluation response stated:

“The presenters were knowlegdable but were not very organized and did not give clear instructions. After the officer was hurt our training was discontinued. They did not finish the training.

In September of 2014, the Wall Street Journal looked in-depth at lawsuits and injury claims in an article entitled entitled,” ‘Active Shooter’ Drills Spark Raft of Legal Complaints” . The article reports of a teacher in Boardman, Ohio, who filed a lawsuit against local police and school officials, claiming he was unexpectedly tackled by a police officer during a drill at a high school, seriously injuring his hip and shoulder.

Todd Fuller, a spokesman for the Missouri State Teachers Association, said his organization has received complaints about active-shooter drills. “Instead of saying, ‘I’m ready to help now,’ their reaction has been, ‘I don’t know what I will be able to do in this situation,’ ” Fuller told the Wall Street Journal.

Last March, four teachers in Farmington, Mo., complained to the county prosecutor’s office that they felt uncomfortable with an announced high school drill in which an airsoft gun, which fires plastic pellets, was used.

There have also been reports of hundreds of thousands of dollars being dished out by insurance carriers for injury claims from options-based training. One recent article even claims that the State of Iowa’s Department of Homeland Security, which coincidentally is the home state of one of ALICE’s national trainers, has pulled its funding for ALICE Training.

Does research tell us which is a more effective weapon: Chicken noodle or tomato soup? Mixed messages, and then an admission, by Alice Training Institute

An Education Week blog written this week by Evie Blad quoted ALICE Training co-founder Lisa Crane, a former principal who co-founded by ALICE with her husband Greg Crane, a former cop and tactical team leader who reportedly resigned from a Texas police department after a controversial raid that left a man dead, as saying:

ALICE doesn’t prescribe specific materials to be used in the event of a counter situation, Crane said. In training, some schools talk about throwing things like textbooks or staplers. The idea of canned goods was suggested at a training session a few years back, and it is sometimes used as an example at training events, Crane said.

Hmmm….ALICE training doesn’t prescribe specific materials to use to throw things at an armed gunman, but they do use it as an example sometimes at training events. So it’s not prescribed but it is used as an example in their training? This citation reminds me of the man who once said he smoked marijuana, but he didn’t inhale. Bottom line: You can’t have it both ways.

After a couple days of the canned food letter going viral, the ALICE Training Institute apparently felt a need to try to explain itself a bit. Under intense national and international scrutiny of this tactic, the Institute took to their web site to post an article entitled, “Alice Training and Canned Food.” To their credit, they owned up to the fact that they actually do endorse, “The throwing of any available item, including canned goods…,” saying that such tactics, “…will surely mean lower hit rates which translate into fewer casualties” by active shooters.

Of course, in the same post they continue to purport what some could interpret as an ALICE endorsement by pulling blurbs out of several recent publications including the federal government’s “Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operation Plans.” The problem with that, however, is this federal document clearly does NOT reference having children use force against gunmen.

In fact, the “Fight” section on pages 65-66 of the publication actually does NOT  recommend having children use force against gunmen. It specifies adults and does not reference students in the “Fight” section.  It goes on to say:

“To be clear, confronting an active shooter should never be a requirement in any school employee’s job description; how each staff member chooses to respond if directly confronted by an active shooter is up to him or her.”

Even more important is the disclaimer language on page 3 of the document that states:

“The guidance does not create any requirements beyond those included in applicable law and regulations, or create any rights for any person, entity, or organization. The information presented in this document generally constitutes informal guidance and provides examples that may be helpful. The inclusion of certain references does not imply any endorsement of any documents, products, or approaches. There may be other resources that may be equally helpful.” (U.S. Department of Education, Office Elementary and Secondary Education, Office of Safe and Healthy Students, Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans, Washington, DC. 2013, page 3.)

Therefore the “informal guidance” in this Federal publication is non-binding, is not mandated in federal laws or regulations, does not endorse any specific programs that include techniques that may be similar to those listed in the publication, and does not create any required standards for schools or in the field of school safety.

For more information, see the rest of my blog article entitled “Teaching students to attack gunmen is NOT the standard of care.” 

Wide spread skepticism and critique dampers ALICE Training Institute success in suppressing public critique of its tactics

The ALICE Training Institute has gone so far in recent years as to have its attorney send threatening letters to at least two national school security experts, yours truly included, in what I interpret as an attempt to bully and intimidate us into suppressing our professional opinions about these controversial and potentially risky tactics. Of course our attorney responded in detail, including with some basic reminders of that little thing called freedom of speech and other protections for opining on school safety issues.

Following this week’s viral coverage of skepticism and mockery after the exposure of the Alabama principal’s letter, their attorney will have a lot of letters to write if she wishes to continue to pursue letter writing as a strategy to quash public opinion and critique of ALICE training concepts and implementation. But then again, she may have some “canned” language that can be used to quickly mass produce letters to hurl at the many others who have now expressed their opinions challenging what many of us believe to be a questionable, risky and controversial training tactic.

Ken Trump

National School Safety and Security Services

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3 thoughts on “ALICE training gets kicked in the can: Alabama principal’s call for students to throw canned food to knock out gunmen gets nationwide, international skepticism

  1. Chuck Hibbert says:

    Ken, you still are the “voice” for this effort to recognize ALICE and Run-Hide-Fight are not appropriate for school age children. Please keep up the fight against these types of programs. You and I know our schools are not yet even able to manage lockdown efforts in far too many school environments. Thanks for again bring this horrible program to the forefront.

  2. Ken, you know you may get another threatening letter from the attorney representing ALICE!! I guess they send those letters out to anyone who disagrees with their extremely questionable tactic! I received one too Ken, however they quickly received a return email reminding them of this little thing called the 1st amendment of the US Constitution (Freedom of Speech).. However the fact the most school safety experts agree the practice is unsafe and lacks evidence to support its effectiveness.

  3. Typical says:

    So…provide an alternative aside from just saying the “fight” part is bad practice. Is your alternative hiding under a desk and hoping the violence passes you by? Because in my experience hope isn’t a very good tactical tool in the case of physical survival. Is fighting back always the best option? No. But neither is laying there waiting to be a victim (i.e. Columbine). So provide an alternative people can use.

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