What’s allowed to count as a cause: ALERRT edition

The Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center, based at Texas State University, trains law enforcement officers on how to deal with active shooter incidents. After the shooting at Uvalde, ALERRT produced an after-action report titled Robb Elementary School Attack Response Assessment and Recommendations.

The “Tactical Assessment” section of the report criticizes the action of the responding officers. It’s too long to excerpt in this post, but here are some examples:

A reasonable officer would have considered this an active situation and devised a plan to address the suspect. Even if the suspect was no longer firing his weapon, his presence and prior actions were preventing officers from accessing victims in the classroom to render medical aid (ALERRT & FBI, 2020, p. 2-17).

ALERRT report, p17

In a hostage/barricade, officers are taught to utilize the 5 Cs (Contain, Control, Communicate, Call SWAT, Create a Plan; ALERRT & FBI, 2020, pp. 2-17 to 2-19). In this instance, the suspect was contained in rooms 111 and 112. The officers established control in that they slowed down the assault. However, the officers did not establish communication with the suspect. The UCISD PD Chief did request SWAT/tactical teams. SWAT was called, but it takes time for the operators to arrive on scene. In the meantime, it is imperative that an immediate action plan is created. This plan is used if active violence occurs. It appears that the officers did not create an immediate action plan.

ALERRT report, p17

(Note: per the interim report, the officers did try to establish communication with the suspect, but the ALERRT authors weren’t aware of this at the time).

At 11:40:58, the suspect fired one shot. At 11:44:00, the suspect fired another shot, and finally, at 12:21:08, the suspect fired 4 more shots. During each of these instances, the situation had gone active, and the immediate action plan should have been triggered because it was reasonable to believe that people were being killed.

ALERRT report, p18

Additionally, we have noted in this report that it does not appear that effective incident command was established during this event. The lack of effective command likely impaired both the Stop the Killing and Stop the Dying parts of the response.

ALERT report, p19

The interim report also covers some of this territory in the subsection titled “ALERRT Standard for Active Shooter Training”, which starts on p17.

What struck me after reading the ALERRT report is that there is no mention of the fact that several of the responding police officers had received ALERRT training, including the chief of the Uvalde school district police, Pete Arredondo. From the interim report:

Before joining the Uvalde CISD Police Department, Chief Arredondo received active shooter training from the ALERRT Center, which the FBI has recognized as “the National Standard in Active Shooter Response Training.” Every school district peace officer in Texas must be trained on how to respond in active shooter scenarios. Not all of them get ALERRT training, but Chief Arredondo and other responders at Robb Elementary did.

Interim report, pp 17–18

The ALERRT report discusses how the actions of the officers is contrary to ALERRT training, and that is one potential explanation for why things went badly. But another potential explanation is that the ALERRT training wasn’t good enough to prepare the officers to deal with this situation. For example, perhaps the training doesn’t go into enough detail about the danger of fixation, where Chief Arredondo focused on trying to get a key for the door, when it wasn’t even clear whether the door was locked or not. (Does ALERRT train peace officers to diagnose fixation in other responders?)

The interim report gestures in the direction of ALERRT training being inadequate when it comes to checking the locks, although not in about the more general problem of fixation.

ALERRT has noted the failure to check the lock in its criticisms. See ALERRT, Robb Elementary School Attack Response Assessment and Recommendations at 18-19 (July 6, 2022). A representative of ALERRT testified before the Committee that the “first rule of breaching” is to check the lock. See Testimony of John Curnutt, ALERRT (July 11, 2022). Unfortunately, ALERRT apparently has neglected to include that “first rule of breaching” in its active- shooter training materials, which includes modules entitled “Closed and Locked Interior Doors” and “Entering Locked Buildings Quickly, Discreetly, and Safely.” See Federal Bureau of Investigation & ALERRT, Active Shooter Response – Level 1, at STU 3-8 – 3-10, 4-20 – 4-25.

Interim report, p64, footnote 206

Now, these criticisms are hindsight-laden, and my goal here isn’t to criticize ALERRT’s training: this isn’t my domain, and I don’t pretend to know how to train officers to deal with active shooter scenarios. Rather, my point is that the folks writing the ALERRT report were never going to consider that their own training is inadequate. After all, they’re the experts!

ALERRT was recognized as the national standard in active shooter response training by the FBI in 2013. ALERRT’s excellence in training was recognized in 2016 with a Congressional Achievement Award.

More than 200,000 state, local, and tribal first responders (over 140,000 law enforcement) from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories have received ALERRT training over the last 20 years.

ALERRT training is research based. The ALERRT research team not only evaluates the efficacy of specific response tactics (Blair & Martaindale, 2014; Blair & Martaindale, 2017; Blair, Martaindale, & Nichols, 2014; Blair, Martaindale, & Sandel, 2019; Blair, Nichols, Burns, & Curnutt, 2013;) but also has a long, established history of evaluating the outcomes of active shooter events to inform training (Martaindale, 2015; Martaindale & Blair, 2017; Martaindale, Sandel, & Blair, 2017). Specifically, ALERRT has utilized case studies of active shooter events to develop improved curriculum to better prepare first responders to respond to similar situations (Martaindale & Blair, 2019).

For these reasons, ALERRT staff will draw on 20 years of experience training first responders and researching best practices to fulfill the Texas DPS request and objectively evaluate the law enforcement response to the May 24, 2022, attack at Robb Elementary School.

ALERRT report, p1

I think it’s literally inconceivable for the ALERRT staff to consider the inadequacy of their own training curriculum as being a contributor to the incident. It’s a great example of something that isn’t allowed to count as a cause.

I’ll end this blog post with some shade that the interim report threw on the ALERRT report.

The recent ALERRT report states that “[o]nce the officers retreated, they should have quickly made a plan to stop the attacker and gain access to the wounded,” noting “[t]here were several possible plans that could have been implemented.” “Perhaps the simplest plan,” according to ALERRT, “would have been to push the team back down the hallway and attempt to control the classrooms from the windows in the doors.” The report explains the purported simplicity of the plan by noting: “Any officer wearing rifle-rated body armor (e.g., plates) would have assumed the lead as they had an additional level of protection.” ALERRT, Robb Elementary School Attack Response Assessment and Recommendations (July 6, 2022). A problem with ALERRT’s depiction of its “simplest plan” is that no officer present was wearing “rifle-rated body armor (e.g., plates).” The Committee agrees the officers should have attempted to breach the classrooms even without armor, but it is inflammatory and misleading to release to the public a report describing “plans that could have been implemented” that assume the presence of protective equipment that the officers did not have.

Interim Report, pp51–52, footnote 158

2 thoughts on “What’s allowed to count as a cause: ALERRT edition

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