In 2014, a longtime employee at the Iowa Homeland Security Department, David Johnston, sent an email to members of the Iowa School Safety Alliance, a group set up to help improve school safety in the state. Some of its members had grown uneasy about the use of ALICE in schools. “There are very strong proponents for both sides of the ALICE argument,” he wrote in a copy of the email obtained by The Trace through a Freedom of Information request. “Some people think it’s the greatest training ever. Others think it is going to get more kids killed. As usual, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.”
One member of the group, Jerry Loghry, was especially concerned. A manager at EMC Insurance, which covered most of the schools in the area, he had witnessed a sharp rise in claims for medical bills from drill-related injuries. By September, EMC had paid out more than a quarter of a million dollars for losses related to drills led by an assortment of companies. (The losses included emergency room bills for teachers and staff who were injured in drills.) Today, he told me, that figure is “significantly higher.”
Such injuries have led to multiple lawsuits. In 2014, a middle school teacher in Boardman, Ohio, filed suit against the police, his school district, and a private training company, claiming he sustained “life-altering injuries,” including a fractured hip and neck, during an active shooter drill. The case was settled out of court.
In addition to physical harm, lawsuits also tell of alleged psychological harm that can be caused by drills. In 2015, Linda McClean, an Oregon elementary school teacher, sued the Pine Eagle School District, school officials, and a private security company connected to a board member, alleging that an unannounced active shooter drill had caused her to develop PTSD so severe she could never enter a classroom again. (There’s no indication the private security company conducted the drill.)
According to court records, on the afternoon of April 26, 2013 — about four months after the Sandy Hook shooting — McLean was reading emails at her desk when she heard a loud bang. Swiveling around to identify the source of the noise, she saw a masked man burst into her classroom wearing black pants, a black hoodie, and goggles. The man pointed a gun at McLean, who didn’t know it was a drill and thought she was going to die. He pulled the trigger and a loud bang cracked out, smoke erupting from the gun. “You’re dead,” he said, running out of the room. McLean and several other teachers, who had previously been to a presentation on Run, Hide, Fight, rushed toward the exit. “Two of them collided and one fell,” court records said. Another teacher wet herself. Reached by telephone, McLean’s lawyer said the case was settled for an undisclosed amount, with a confidentiality agreement attached. McLean has never returned to teaching.
Michael Dorn, the executive director of Safe Havens International, a nonprofit school security company, predicts that as more lawsuits are filed, the industry will be forced to change. But these cases can be messy. Because so many parties are often involved in drills — including local law enforcement agencies, private training companies, school districts, and staff — there are often many separate legal claims.
To minimize liability issues and potential harm, many drills are now optional, and participants are often asked to sign waivers acknowledging the risks involved. A copy of an ALICE waiver from 2018 lists “minor injuries such as scratches, bruises and sprains; major injuries such as eye injury, loss of sight, joint or back injuries, heart attacks, and concussions,” and, finally, “catastrophic injuries including paralysis and death.”