Training tells church leaders, 'think outside box' for active shooter survival

A training program for churches on Thursday challenged religious leaders to think about the uncomfortable possibility of violence in their midst.

But the session sponsored at Calvary Church of Naperville by Church Mutual Insurance Company provided the basis for those same leaders to react should violence strike, giving them mental and physical tricks to increase odds of survival.

Nearly 500 people representing churches throughout the DuPage County region learned the ALICE Training Institute's method of response to an active shooter from assistant director of training Brandon Rhone, who said the approach boils down to two main points.

"Remove yourself from the dangerous location or render the location no longer dangerous," said Rhone, a former Philadelphia-area police officer. "ALICE is all about proactive response options. What are you going to do if violence were to show up right here and now?"

The principles within the acronym of ALICE - alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate - give people tactics they can follow, in any order that seems logical at the time, to try to survive a shooting or violent threat. Using ALICE helps people in any location - be it a church, concert venue, shopping mall or school - gain some measure of control over chaos.

"You've got to think outside the box, folks," Rhone said. "You're here because you want to make sure you survive."

The first and best option comes at the end of the acronym, Rhone said: evacuate.

Escaping is the clearest way to avoid being struck by an intruder's gunfire, Rhone said.

If escape isn't possible, it may be best to fight back. But the ALICE strategy known as "counter" is not the same as "fighting." It's using noise, movement, distance or distraction to put the shooter on the defensive, affect his concentration and make him less likely to be able to kill.

The philosophy behind this strategy is to disrupt the mental process that must go on before a person takes action. Rhone explained it as the "OODA loop," which stands for observe, orient, decide and act.

If a shooter can't observe his targets because they're running around, can't orient himself to the room because it's noisy with people screaming or littered with thrown objects, Rhone said it becomes much harder to pull the trigger.

The response makes sense when an intruder is already in the room. But if he's elsewhere and people are alerted or informed (two of the other ALICE principles), they can fall back on the traditional response of a lockdown.

For a lockdown to be sensible, Rhone said, people must not only lock all entrances, but barricade them with heavy objects and secure the barricade with improvised ropes such as electric cables or the strings from blinds.

These tactics sounded practical and helpful to church leaders, whom Rhone encouraged to form more detailed intruder safety plans.

"It's not the most pleasant conversation to have," Rhone said. "We want to be able to go about our business and feel safe doing so. But the reality is there could be violence at some point that you're met with, and what are you going to do?"

Kim Teske, administrator of Christ Community Church in Peotone, said she'll now be "trying put plans in place for the unforeseen."

Thomas Roberts and Pastor Kevin DeVries of Monee Free Methodist Church said they, too, plan to follow Rhone's advice, summarizing their ALICE training to congregation members and using it to formulate a more thorough safety plan. Roberts, wearing a Marines cap, said he liked the way the strategies emphasize people aren't powerless when violence strikes.

"This matches a lot with the military training that I've had in the past," he said. "Always take it to them instead of cowering and hiding."

  Brandon Rhone, a former Philadelphia-area police officer who is now assistant director of training for the ALICE Training Institute, explains the principles behind the acronym's shooter survival tactics of alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate. Brian Hill/
  Leaders and congregation members from churches throughout the region listen to Brandon Rhone, assistant director of training for the ALICE Training Institute, explain ways to increase odds of survival during an active shooter intrusion. Brian Hill/
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