Making safer classrooms

BGSU alumna studying active shooter responses

CherylJonson2

©Paul Jonson '02

By Amber Stark ’99

From an early age, people are taught what to do if there is a tornado or a fire – most people can recite “Stop, drop and roll” without hesitating. But new emergencies require new responses. BGSU alumna Dr. Cheryl Lero Jonson ’03, ’05 is currently researching one of those new responses – A.L.i.C.E., or alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate.

In 2016, with the assistance of Lt. Joe Hendry from the A.L.i.C.E. Training Institute, Jonson and her colleague Dr. Melissa Moon, who are both trained as certified A.L.i.C.E. instructors, assisted in the implementation of A.L.i.C.E. in the Kenton County School District in Kentucky. After that accomplishment, the trio realized there is very little empirical research comparing active shooter responses. And so the study was born.

“While there is much anecdotal evidence and common sense suggesting that more active approaches to shooting incidents increase survivability when compared to traditional lockdown approaches, there is not the hard empirical evidence needed to make a definitive claim that A.L.i.C.E. is a better response than traditional lockdown,” Jonson said. “With that question unanswered, we decided to design a study that would compare the survivability of those engaging in traditional lockdown approaches to those engaging in an A.L.i.C.E. approach. With the assistance of ATI, we are now in the process of collecting the data from multiple scenarios comparing the two approaches to active killing situations.”

Jonson is co-principal investigator on the study, which began in the spring of 2016. It involves scenarios using AirSoft guns and surveys of respondents. In the first scenario, they place individuals in a classroom and tell them to only use a traditional lockdown approach. They then have a “gunman” armed with the AirSoft gun enter the school and they record the number of individuals who have been “shot.”

They then recreate the same scenario, but this time they allow the individuals to utilize A.L.i.C.E. techniques and they record the number of people “shot.” After the classroom scenarios, they then do the same thing again; however, this time in a large area like a cafeteria or library, as shootings often occur in these settings. The team then compares the number “shot” using traditional lockdown techniques to those using A.L.i.C.E. techniques.

Finally, the team surveys the individuals involved in each scenario asking them about their fear levels and their perceptions of survivability. While ATI and Hendry conduct the scenarios nationally, Jonson and Moon developed the methodology of the study and how it would be conducted.

“This study carries great importance, as it is can have life or death consequences,” Jonson said. “When you ask people to what to do if they find themselves in a fire, they can rattle off rather quickly things like evacuate the building, get low to the ground, or stop, drop and roll. However, when you ask individuals what to do if they are in an active shooting event, they often freeze and cannot come up with an answer.

“Just as most of us learned fire safety in school, we can learn active shooter responses in school that can transcend beyond the schoolyard. But it is important to know which technique is most successful in keeping people safe in these events. This study will allow us to have that critical information and then be able to disseminate it to our school systems and beyond.”

The data collection portion of the study should be completed early this summer. Preliminary results are expected this fall with a final report out in early 2018.

“It is my belief that this study will allow us to equip and empower people with the proper information that if ever they find themselves in an active shooter incident, they will know what to do and increase their chance of surviving such a horrific experience,” Jonson said.

Jonson, who is originally from Defiance, Ohio, lives in Mason, Ohio, near Cincinnati. She is an assistant professor at Xavier University and also serves as the adviser for the Criminal Justice Society, Alpha Phi Sigma, OIP-U (Ohio Innocence Project’s Xavier University’s student organization) and the club baseball team. She is also the co-chair of the Campus Safety Committee.

Jonson was also involved on campus while at BGSU. While working on her bachelor’s degrees in sociology and psychology, she was involved in Psi Chi and the Psychology Club, which she said solidified her future interests in criminal justice issues and research.

“Academically, my time at BGSU was wonderful,” Jonson said. “I was so fortunate to have professors that challenged, supported and inspired me. They cultivated my interest in criminal justice and equipped me with the knowledge and skills to be successful. Personally, my decision to attend BGSU changed my life. I met my now husband my first week on campus and began dating him soon after. I formed life-long friendships that continue to this day, with an annual roommate reunion still going strong, and I’m still rooming with my graduate school friends and best friend at our annual criminology conference.”

Jonson, who later earned her doctorate in criminal justice from the University of Cincinnati, chose BGSU because it was “the best fit” for her.

“I appreciated the large campus feel, yet the personal interactions with faculty that were provided,” she said. “I was seeking a degree in physical therapy and believed its program to be one of the best in the area at the time. I did not switch over to psychology and sociology until I was already enrolled and taking courses. I then had the goal to work as a forensic psychologist, but that soon changed and I saw my future in academia.

“After being a student in higher education for 11 years obtaining my degrees and teaching at the collegiate level, BGSU is a wonderful place of learning. There is a large campus feel, with many athletic activities, clubs, arts, etc., but a small college atmosphere in the classroom. BGSU has high-quality faculty that are not only focused on their research, but also the students, both academically and personally. That unique combination is something special that makes BGSU stick out from other universities.”