Charleston: How students in the US are taught to survive a gun attack

The Emanuel AME Church, in Charleston
Image caption The Emanuel AME Church, in Charleston

Guns are part of life in the United States, and they have re-entered the news agenda following the shooting of nine worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Dylann Roof, the man suspected of the killings, is in police custody, but a debate over firearms has begun.

Anastasia Bates, 20, is a student from the UK and as part of her course, she spent time at a university in America.

One of the first things she learned was how to stay alive if a gunman entered the campus. This is her account.

Learning about ALICE

It was my first week at Clarion University, in Pennsylvania.

It's set in a gorgeous town on the edge of a forest, with one main high street and a grassy campus.

One bus to New York passed through the town, once a week, that's how small it was.

I spent ten months there as part of my journalism course, but one of the first things I learned was how to stay alive with ALICE training.

The ALICE training program in the US was set up after the Columbine massacre, where 12 students were shot dead on campus in Colorado.

Anastasia Bates
Image caption Anastasia Bates

It stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. It's an easy way to remember what to do if you ever find yourself faced with a gunman.

It's things like remembering to call 911 or local security if you spot an armed person.

It also taught us the best way to escape and what to do if you were to "counter" or interrupt the shooter.

Clarion University of Pennsylvania
Image caption Clarion University of Pennsylvania

In the UK, you might get told what to do if there's a fire, go through a fire drill. In the US, we learned about the reality of mass shootings on campus.

In a hall with hundreds of other first year students, police officers showed us an instructional video.

In it, a shooter, played by an actor, comes onto a campus. Students run and hid, explaining where to go and why.

It was unnerving to watch.

Clarion Campus

Once the video was over, the police officers gave us some very sage advice.

Run and hide

The first thing to do if an active shooter arrives on campus is you run. Get out of the building and as far away as you possibly can.

We were told to have an escape route ready. Barricading yourself into a cupboard was an example of what not to do. How would you get out if the shooter was approaching?

But if you couldn't run, then the worst case scenario was a lock down. The advice was simple:

  • Get into a room and block the door with furniture
  • Make sure you have an escape route from that room
  • Put your phone on silent
  • Stay silent yourself. Try to calm people down who are screaming and scared.

Ever heard of an "Eagle alert"? It's the system our university had to alert us via text on the location of the shooter, so we would know where to run and what to do.

Clarion University of Pennsylvania
Image caption Clarion University of Pennsylvania

Debates raged on campus about arming police officers and security; even more so than gun control itself.

Some argued that it was their way of protecting us. Others said it added unnecessary danger.

Thankfully, ALICE was never needed during my time. My campus was very safe. But preparing for the worst, while hoping for the best, was an experience I'll never forget.

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