A new, empirical, peer-reviewed study conducted by researchers affiliated with Xavier University, Northern Kentucky University, and Seattle University has announced the results of its assessment of the psychological impact of active-shooter response training on students. Contrary to the belief of many, the study found that for students in 4th-12th grade, active assailant training provided more feelings of safety than fear, worry, or concern. 

The study, published in the journal Victims & Offenders, contextualizes the psychological impact of discussion-based active assailant training in terms of other crisis/emergency preparedness techniques, such as fire drills, tornado drills, and Stranger Danger discussions. Until now, the singular focus on active assailant responses in prior research has not allowed comparisons to other well-known and accepted forms of crisis/emergency preparedness practices that children are exposed to routinely.

The study specifically evaluated  ALICE , a popular options-based curriculum, to determine the psychological impact of ALICE training discussions amongst a cohort of 4th through 12th grade students. The study was conducted in a greater Midwestern school district in 2019. In consultation with district personnel, two surveys were developed based on the grade level of the students: one for elementary school (4th-5th grades) and one for junior high/high school students (6th-12th grades).

To understand the psychological reactions to active assailant response training protocols in relation to other crisis/emergency preparedness practices, questions about fire drills, tornado drills, and discussions of Stranger Danger were included in the surveys. Additionally, this measure was used as a proxy for how anxious or scared students are of other crisis/emergency preparedness practices they routinely experience.

The analyses revealed that students are generally no more fearful of ALICE than other crisis/emergency preparedness practices, particularly tornado drills and Stranger Danger discussions. Other specific findings include:

  • Over 86 percent of junior high/high school students indicated they either felt more or had no change in how prepared and confident they felt about what to do in a violent incident after learning about ALICE.
  • 89 percent of the elementary and 95 percent of junior high/high school students reported feeling just as safe or safer at school after ALICE training.

"Unlike what is commonly reported in the media about multi-option approaches, the findings of this study indicate that multi-option active assailant response programs, did not result in students feeling more fearful after the training when compared to other routine crisis/emergency preparedness practices," said researcher and Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Xavier University, Dr. Cheryl Lero Jonson. "Large percentages of students reported feeling less scared, worried, and confused and more safe, prepared, and confident after learning about what to do in a violent incident through training."

"Proponents as well as opponents of active assailant protocols often draw on sound bites to support their stance for agendas that are political or personal points of view, and/or competing for funding" said researcher and Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Northern Kentucky University Dr. Melissa M. Moon. "Our findings are crucial because when the media, parents, schools, researchers, and other stakeholders solely focus on the negative impacts of active assailant responses – without assessing potential positive impacts – an incomplete picture of the impact of these protocols is painted."

Fellow researcher and Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Seattle University Dr. Brooke Miller Gialopsos said, "The results of our study, along with the four prior studies on the topic, are critical to helping schools implement evidence-based approaches to active assailant responses that are preparing and empowering, without unduly harming, millions of students across the nation." 

To access the study in its entirety, visit: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15564886.2020.1753871?journalCode=uvao20