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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Forget duck and cover, Idaho class teaches people to flee and survive in the midst of a mass shooting

More than 1,000 Kootenai County residents have taken a class on how to survive a mass shooting.

The training, initially offered to schools and businesses, has proven so popular the Sheriff’s Office will start holding classes for the general public.

The first two classes, scheduled for Aug. 27 and Sept. 24, are already full, said Gary Shults, the department’s community resources officer. He’s got a waiting list of people who want to take the two-hour training and anticipates teaching the class once a month for the foreseeable future.

A rash of shootings across the United States this summer heightened people’s awareness of gun violence, Shults said. The June 12 shooting at an Orlando nightclub, where 49 people were killed, is one of 136 mass shootings in the country this year, according to, which defines mass shootings as events where four or more people are hurt or killed.

“All you’re reading in the news now are stories about ‘active shooters,’ ” Shults said. While the likelihood of being the victim of a mass shooting is low, people “want to be able to do the right thing and they want to survive” if they ever find themselves in that situation, he said.

The class curriculum was developed at Texas State University with state and federal funding. Originally for law enforcement officers, ALERRT (Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training) now has training materials for civilians, too.

The Sheriff’s Office began offering ALERRT classes to schools and businesses about nine months ago. After members of the public started inquiring about the training, the department decided to make the class available to the general public.

Though the curriculum focuses on mass shootings, it’s also relevant for other disasters.

“If we can educate the public how to respond, they’re less likely to be victims,” Shults said.

The training delves into the psychology of how people react during mass shootings and other life-threatening events. Often, “they freeze or they go back to what we all learned in school, which is to duck and cover,” Shults said. “But we don’t want people to do that. We want them to leave, to get out of Dodge.”

A delayed reaction reduces an individual’s odds of survival. During the 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Center, some people waited as long as three minutes after they heard the explosion before they started heading to the exits. Shults also shows a video during the training of a nightclub fire, where the crowd milled around after flames broke out. Within minutes, the building was engulfed.

The training teaches people to react quickly and leave the area. “We teach them to get away from the shooter,” Shults said. If they’re stuck in the building, they should take action to keep the shooter from getting into their area by locking doors while they look for other escape routes, such as windows.

Even if people are armed, the training encourages them to leave the site.

“We don’t want them going after the suspect, we want them to leave,” Shults said. “Because if the police arrive, the police don’t know who the suspect is, and they might get shot.

“The only time we’d want you to use a gun is if you have to to save your life or someone else’s.”

If escape isn’t possible, the training teaches people to fight back aggressively.

During the class, people listen to the 911 recording of 1999 Columbine High School shootings that left 13 people dead and they watch a re-enactment of the shooters’ movements through the building. They also analyze what happened during the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting.

Some of the material is disturbing, Shults said. It captures the attitude of the shooters, who are “going in and hunting people,” he said. But it reinforces the need for people to make decisions quickly, he said. Rehearsing scenarios helps condition people to react appropriately when a real disaster occurs, Shults said.

“You’ll make decisions in seconds instead of minutes,” he said.

More than 250 staff members at the Salvation Army Kroc Center in Coeur d’Alene participated in the training in May.

“The probability of this occurring in our facility is extremely low,” said Dale Eller, the Kroc Center’s safety manager. “But if it did occur, the training would save lives.”

The curriculum is based on nationally proven methods of “run, hide, fight,” he said. The training prepares staff members to respond to a life-threatening situation while law enforcement is on its way, Eller said.

“It’s tangible for the times we live in,” he said.

The classes offered by the Sheriff’s Office have a limit of 50 people, and reservations are required. When additional classes are scheduled, information will be posted on the Sheriff’s Office’s website and Facebook page.