Determined to discourage complacency, Fremont County Emergency Management Coordinator Mike Crecelius opened fire on Fremont County Courthouse staff Thursday afternoon, shooting County Attorney Corey Becker in the chest at close range before asking the remaining group seated in the court room, "What are you going to do?!"

Determined to discourage complacency, Fremont County Emergency Management Coordinator Mike Crecelius opened fire on Fremont County Courthouse staff Thursday afternoon, shooting County Attorney Corey Becker in the chest at close range before asking the remaining group seated in the court room, "What are you going to do?!"
Becker didn't die, and the gun Crecelius used was just a pellet gun, but the slow confused reactions of the staff proved the point he was out to make.  If an unhinged armed person confronted the courthouse staff unexpectedly, the majority were more likely to die or be wounded than not.
Crecelius requested the closing of the courthouse for an afternoon and gathering of staff members to address this failing.  He was on hand to present a training in ALiCE.  The acronym stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate, and it is the latest thinking in active shooter situations.
Throughout the afternoon Crecelius showed staff members video clips of Columbine and other shooter incidents and talked about the things in common at each scene that led to high mortality and injury rates.  
The problem, as Crecelius described it, is that we've all been trained to do the same thing for years and years in dangerous situations.  Despite normal human reactions of fight, flight or freeze, we've basically been taught to freeze every time.  Nuclear bomb?  Crawl under the desk and cover your head.  Tornado?  Hunker down and hold on.  Shooter in the hall?  
Crawl under your desk and hope he doesn't see you.
Essentially, become a sitting duck.
Crecelius showed staffers statistics showing that dangerous intruder rampages ended in one of four ways:  police intervention, suicide, weapon malfunction, or civilian intervention.  Of those four endings, incidents in which the victims stood up for themselves actually resulted in the least casualties and deaths, by a sizable margin.
For years the standard response in these situations has been alert and lockdown, waiting for police to come save the day.  Crecelius asked the participants to think about what might happen if people had more choices.  How many more might survive?  Maybe hiding is the best idea, maybe running while there's a chance, maybe fighting for life is better than waiting to die.  Since many such situations are over before law enforcement arrives on the scene or can enter the building, it would be prudent to take a look at the options.
In fact, it was the Columbine incident that inspired the creation of the ALiCE program, and anyone watching the footage of scared kids hiding under tables and being coldly picked off one-by-one by laughing assailants can't help but pray those students would do something, anything, to save themselves.
Crecelius talked to those present about the last three letters of the ALiCE acronym:  inform, counter, and evacuate, and how those steps could be put into effect.  
Anyone working at the courthouse who observed an armed intruder needs to get the word out to the rest of the courthouse, however possible.  In some cases that might be by using an "all page" feature on the phones, others might send out a mass text, or if all else fails, yell.  Crecelius warned not to just yell "intruder"  though, but to give enough information that everyone would know where he was and what direction he was headed.
While hitting the panic buttons in their office should be a given, Crecelius also pointed out that the more emergency responders knew about the situation inside, the easier it would be for them to respond.  Staff were told to keep an open line with emergency responders if possible, giving them up-to-the-minute information about the number and location of intruders and what they were doing.  Obviously those efforts should be made without endangering themselves, though.
When trapped with the intruder it could become necessary to counter his attack.  Whether by throwing things at him and distracting him to throw off his aim, or worst case scenario, by tackling him and working as a group to keep him down and immobilized so that no one else could be harmed.  
Whenever safely possible, every effort should be made to evacuate the building, leaving the intruder with no victims to target.  In situations where evacuation would be impossible, and there was no other choice, locking and barricading doors was still better than doing nothing.
After talking for a while to the staff about possible other options, Crecelius armed Becker with the pellet gun, armed the staff with tennis balls and the freedom to make choices, and asked them to see if they could survive the attack this time.
When Becker burst into the room this time, firing, he was hit by flying tennis balls, pens and water bottles, while the staff scrambled for the doors, resulting in only one "fatality" and many more scared but triumphant survivors.
After the staff settled back down in the courtroom, Crecelius and staff members started talking about the present security advantages and issues in the courthouse, as well as possible solutions.   
Walk-in safes/vaults were an advantage in some offices, as was the panic button connected to law enforcement and the "all page" feature on some of the phones, but the isolation of some offices and lack of exits other than the main hallway were distinct disadvantages.  
One staff member suggested replacing the mirrors that had been taken down from the main hallway years earlier for painting and never replaced.  Others talked about video cameras, mass text messages, and the possibility of making some doors exit- only.  Most of the staff members had some thoughts about ways to improve safety in their own offices, or ways to evacuate or lock down if need be.
After the meeting, Crecelius said he was glad to see the courthouse staff thinking seriously about ways to improve their own safety, and that he had really wanted to drive home the fact that despite a certain natural midwestern trust and small-town belief that it could never happen here, it really can happen anywhere.  
He explained that disgruntled employees or ex-employees, unhappy customers, and jealous or rage-filled husbands, wives, lovers and exes are everywhere.  People dealing with stressors in their lives and having no outlet can snap, and denying the possibility is equivalent to ignoring reality.  
Ultimately, Crecelius said that he had chosen to provide ALiCE training because, "we have to be able to do something other than what we've been taught all of our lives."
Fremont County Supervisor Cara Morgan acknowledged that the topic had been one of discussion at recent Iowa State Association of Counties (ISAC) meetings, and templates were slowly being hammered out for improving courthouse security and establishing security committees at the local level across the state.