ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Columbine, Virginia Tech - those names, and others, have become tragic shorthand for school shootings. Today, when there's a threat, the typical plan that most schools follow is: Sound the alarm, call police, lock doors, stay put. But a growing number of schools are adopting controversial training that includes how to fight back against a gunman. Dan Carsen, of member station WBHM in Birmingham, Alabama, has that story.
DAN CARSEN, BYLINE: The standard school lockdown plan is meant to minimize chaos, so police arriving on the scene don't shoot the wrong people. Students practice following directions, getting into classrooms - and basically, waiting. But some security experts think that's inadequate - and may actually be dangerous.
Greg Crane is a former teacher and SWAT officer. He notes even trained police officers miss roughly three-quarters of their shots fired in the line of duty. But...
GREG CRANE: These school shooters, they don't miss at that high a rate. In fact, they almost hit at that high a rate. Cho at Virginia Tech, he was over 100 to one, numerical disadvantage. One person should not be able to do what these single shooters are able to do.
CARSEN: Crane says the staff and students are just too easy to shoot.
CRANE: We've conditioned them to go sit in the corner; go sit under a table.
CARSEN: So he's developed a training program that teaches potential victims to make it harder. And that includes ways to fight back. It's called A.L.i.C.E. training - alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate.
CRANE: We don't tell them what to do. We tell them what they can do. Ultimately, they're going to be the ones experiencing this danger. And we want them to be the ones to decide, what is it that I can do that will increase my chance of survival?
CARSEN: Crane and others want to empower the people in the situation to make those life-and-death decisions, even when they're children. About a million and a half students, in almost 300 systems, have had A.L.i.C.E. training. Crane says he's taught it to kindergarteners.
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CARSEN: But here's a more typical setting - Alabama's Auburn University, where law enforcement veteran Chance Corbett is analyzing school shootings for some 30 staff and students. He points out huge differences in room-to-room survival rates, based on what occupants did. At Virginia Tech, a professor was killed - but not before he saved students' lives by getting them to jump out windows. Then there's the classroom where students barricaded the door.
CHANCE CORBETT: We chart out Norris Hall, second floor. And we talk about this classroom - 12 dead; eight dead, three injured. We got to this classroom; it was zero. They made a decision that day, that saved their lives. How many of you want to be in that classroom?
CARSEN: Corbett says escape is always best. And countering is a last resort, but people should know how.
CORBETT: Teamwork is strength in numbers, guys. You don't want two things going in his head. You want 34 things going in his head. You're going to be a fighting, throwing, screaming, yelling and swarming; getting out of the way, moving...
CARSEN: He'd already led a tennis ball drill, showing shooters can't help but look at flying objects - which can buy time to flee, or charge. After the class, Corbett tells me...
CORBETT: You're teaching how to barricade, how to lock down, how to run. But when it gets to the point that they are there to do the harm, do you really want your kid just to hide under the desk?
CARSEN: A.L.i.C.E. supporters often quote examples of unarmed people stopping shooters. Even so, not everyone thinks it's a good approach. Here's school security consultant and writer Ken Trump.
KEN TRUMP: Most middle school kids can't decide between chicken nuggets and pizza for lunch. To think that we're going to put that liability, and responsibility, in the hands of a seventh-grader, is insane.
CARSEN: Many parents feel the same way. Greg Crane's hometown of Burleson, Texas, was the first school district in the country to try A.L.i.C.E. Some parents supported it. But others revolted, and the superintendent pulled the plug. An Alabama district recently started A.L.i.C.E., and is in the middle of a similar controversy. Ken Trump says the issue forces parents to confront a troubling question: Would you want your student leading the charge?
TRUMP: It may continue to grow - until the first child who jumps up at an armed intruder gets killed, and a school official has to explain. I would not want my child to be the first one dead in the classroom floor.
CARSEN: But some parents would accept that risk. School policy analyst Trisha Powell Crain - no relation to Greg Crane - has two children in college, and another in high school.
TRISHA POWELL CRAIN: I would be proud of them if they stepped up and tried to end the shooting. It's just tragic; it's tough to think about. But if your child helped save lives in the process then yes, that's acceptable.
CARSEN: She points to situations where experts have changed their thinking about how potential victims should respond. Before 9/11, passengers were advised to comply with hijackers. Self-defense instructors used to tell women to go limp, to survive a rape. And now, a similar shift - toward more-active resistance - may be happening in schools and colleges. And it doesn't look like the reason to plan for school shootings, is going away. For NPR News, I'm Dan Carsen in Birmingham.
SIEGEL: That story came to us from the Southern Education Desk, a public radio reporting project that focuses on education in the South.