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Meeting An Active Threat Head-On

By Becky Lewis
Updated February 2014

The next school shooter may not blast his way through the door of an elementary school. He might get past a school’s “buzz for admittance” policy because he’s a known visitor, only this time he’s carrying a knife and looking for his partner for a deadly reason. Or he might be a student in a small rural school with a gun in his backpack. Or he may find some other way to get past a school’s well-thought-out, well-executed safety plan.

However he gets in, if local law enforcement has taken advantage of the free Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Program offered through the Texas State University and funded at a national level by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), (a component of the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs) officers will know how to deal with this active threat.

Since 2002, more than 50,000 law enforcement officers from across the nation have participated in scenario-based training through the university’s ALERRT Program, starting with Level I training focused on dealing with active threats. The university’s partners, the San Marcos Police Department and the Hays County Sheriff’s Office, helped develop the original training program, which has expanded to a national level through the use of state and federal grant funding.

Assistant Director Terry Nichols has been involved in the program since the beginning, when, as a sergeant with the San Marcos Police Department, he worked with Sgt. David Burns, a counterpart at the sheriff’s office, to train every officer from the two agencies on dealing with the active shooter threat. Nichols and Burns had received their initial active shooter instructor training from the Texas Tactical Police Officers Association, and after teaching the local officers in Hays County, they appealed to the university for assistance in developing a statewide program. The university then took ALERRT to the national level when it began receiving BJA grant funding. .

“We’ve slowly built the program, but Level I remains centered on the active threat,” says Nichols. ALERRT offers training sessions at San Marcos, takes them out to other jurisdictions on request and as funding allows, and offers train-the-trainer sessions that spread ALERRT’s reach even farther. To host Level I ALERRT training, an agency must provide a facility such as an unoccupied office or school building with wide hallways and multiple rooms off those hallways. On facility approval, ALERRT allows agencies to enroll between 25 and 30 students, and in return, provides four certified instructors and all the needed materials and equipment.

“Immediately after the incident in Newtown, we had a wait list of 300 agencies, and at that level of demand, the funding we receive from BJA goes pretty quickly,” Nichols says. However, a year later that wait list is decreasing significantly thanks in large part to a newly developed partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The FBI vetted the training program in February 2013 and was impressed enough to have 130 FBI agents trained as ALERRT instructors to help teach the course across the nation. Through a substantial increase in funding from BJA’s VALOR Program, as well as funding from the FBI ALERRT has been able to “hit the wait list and start putting out the fires according to Nichols.

Working with state police agencies in Georgia and in Maryland, FBI Field Offices in Atlanta and Baltimore have taken the lead in providing training in those states.  In Georgia and Maryland, the local FBI Field Offices are teaming up with the state police and local agencies in each state to deliver the ALERRT curriculum to first responders.

In addition to partnering with the FBI to expand training resources, the university has also worked with the FBI Bureau in a research capacity, digging into crime reports to analyze homicide cases against a new working definition of active shooter and provide solid empirical information to help inform policies and procedures regarding active shooter incidents. Nichols assisted with writing an article, “Active Shooter Events from 2000 to 2012,” which can be found on the FBI website (

It Can Happen in a Small Town
Galax, Va., an independent city near the North Carolina border, has a population of just slightly more than 7,000 residents. Approximately 400 of them were shopping in a local Wal-Mart late one evening in May 2010, when a call came in about an active shooter in the store. Chief Rick Clark says that his ALERRT-trained officers correctly formed two contact teams, with one moving directly to the threat and the other, to the victim. The shooter, as it turned out, shot himself after shooting his wife, a store employee. He died, and she survived.

“There was no hesitation on the part of my officers. They knew their roles. I’ve been around a while and I learned the old school way of methodically clearing an area. ALERRT says you go straight to the heart of threat and they did that,” Chief Clark says. “We believe in the program. The acronym is ALERRT and I think it gives them more confidence and makes them more alert when they respond.”

The leader of the Galax tactical team took ALERRT train-the-trainer training in Lynchburg in 2008 and brought its concepts back to the rest of the agency. Officers can also take ALERRT training at the New River Valley Criminal Justice Academy, which offers in-service training throughout the year and includes ALERRT in its basic recruit training. Galax also hosted a statewide rural-specific training in 2012 that teaches officers how to operate in more wide-open spaces and in wooded areas.

“I believe in training. I believe my folks should have every tool and function necessary to perform their jobs. Even though we’re a small agency (24 sworn officers), we face the same issues as they do in Roanoke and Richmond,” Chief Clark says.

It Can Happen Without a Gun
Given that the Lone Star College system in the Houston area is in the same state as the ALERRT Training Center in San Marcos, it’s no surprise that Lone Star College System Police Department officers have been taking ALERRT training on an ongoing basis for a number of years. Officers at two different campuses put that training to use in 2013, the first a shooting incident on January 22 on the North Harris campus, the second a multiple stabbing incident on April 9 at the CyFair campus. (Each campus has an enrollment that approaches 20,000 students, with numerous faculty and support staff present at any given time.).

“From the time the stabbing call came in until the suspect was in custody was under five minutes. He had run through the hallways of two buildings and assaulted a total of 14 people,” says Chief Richard Gregory. “In addition to the ALERRT training our officers received, we had been doing a lot of training for faculty, staff and students on how to respond to an active threat. In fact, some of them had watched a training video earlier that same day, and officers had talked to them about what to do in an active threat situation. In this case, several students actually dragged him to the ground before the officers caught up with him. When I looked at video of the incident, I saw the officers using the movements that I expected from individuals who had taken ALERRT training.”

During the shooting incident, Chief Gregory didn’t have to look at video: he was present on the North Harris campus and witnessed his officers putting their training to use: “The call came out that three people, two students and a facilities employee, were injured. The shooter ran into one of our buildings and the first officer on the scene, adhering to the ALERRT training, went into the building after him before any backup arrived. Two other officers arrived within minutes, and I followed them through the building and observed they were using the ALERRT formation. Officers from two other agencies who also had received ALERRT training arrived and joined right in the formation with no discussion needed. The training allowed officers from three different jurisdictions to search together as a team,” Chief Gregory says. (The shooter ultimately was apprehended in a wooded area after escaping that building through another door.)

“We initially trained our two firearms instructors to be trainers, because they said it was good active threat training, but also just good officer safety and survival training,” Chief Gregory says. “It’s just good solid training that we were able to put to good use.”

You can find also find articles about a Level II ALERRT training class (“After the Shooting Stops,”) and about the university’s Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events (CRASE) training elsewhere on this website. For more information on the program as a whole, visit or contact Communications Director Diana Hendricks at (512) 245-1744, email [email protected]