HOUSTON -- When seconds could mean lives, getting to the gunman is what counts. It was the Columbine shooting in 1999 that forced law enforcement agencies to rethink how they respond to school shootings.
In that shooting, police were criticized for not entering the school and confronting the gunmen. That has changed.
These days, police and even officers with other agencies are trained to go in and take down an active shooter.
The Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Program (ALERRT) has been training officers for 10 years. The ALERRT program began in San Marcos, Texas, and is now taught in 37 states.
Its goal is to get a mass and immediate response to the scene of an active shooting. From school resource officers to state troopers to local police, real life drills teach everyone to respond quickly. That way, the first person to a scene can take action.
"Our first and foremost goal is to locate the shooter because the faster we can locate the shooter, the more we can mitigate the loss of life,” explained Lt. Cliff Woitena, an instructor with ALERRT.
Lt. Cliff Woitena works for the League City Police Department and teaches hands-on situations for the program. They practice with special Glock guns which hold pellets made with soap.
ALERRT has built on lessons learned from Virginia Tech, Fort Hood and the Aurora theater shooting. Woitena isn’t sure what will be taken from the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
"To actually prepare you for some of the stuff that you might see going into an elementary school where children are dead, I don't think I could do anything to prepare someone for something like this,” he said. "It's horrible enough when it's a campus full of college kids. Of course, being parents, we think of our little bitty ones defenseless, can't do anything, don't know to run.”
The ALERRT program, which is managed by Texas State University, is not mandatory for all agencies. Just hours after Friday’s shooting in Newtown, Conn., Woitena says several Texas agencies contacted the program to ask for training.
ALERRT training is free.