Santa Maria's Police Department is offering a training program to local groups and businesses that provides strategies for responding to an active shooter situation, in the wake of the terrorist attack in San Bernardino and other mass shootings nationwide.

Officer Shane Armstrong, who works as the school resource officer at Santa Maria High School, presented the program at the Santa Maria Times recently, and said that he hopes to continue sharing it with students, businesses and organizations throughout the city.

In the same way students are trained with fire drills, active shooter training prepares students, or employees, before an incident. 

"You guys know what to do from training as a child. You know how to get out if you can," Armstrong said, referring to a fire drill. "You know that if there's smoke, you want to get on the ground and get out the door. But what about active shooters? Do we know what to do when there's an active shooter?"

Typical law enforcement response time to an incident in Santa Maria would likely be 5 or 6 minutes, according to officers, and it could take a local SWAT team 45 minutes to an hour to respond, so it's critical residents know their options and how to counter an attack.

The way police respond to an active shooter changed following the Columbine High School shootings of 1999, and law enforcement continues to modify its training methods, Armstrong said. The main program Santa Maria officers now use comes from an organization called the ALICE Training Institute.

ALICE is an acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate: 

Alert: Give out as much information as you can to others around you as the incident is unfolding.

Lockdown: Lock the doors and get under a desk and turn the lights out if that is a possibility at your location. Also, barricade the door after it is locked.

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Inform: Try to share more information and report the incident to authorities.

Counter: If the situation reaches a life-or-death moment, fighting can be an option. Anything can become a weapon to help. 

Evacuate: If it is safe to do so, leave the building.

Armstrong said the response doesn't have to follow that order, but that the acronym is easy to remember in case of an emergency.

"The idea is to get everyone thinking and having a plan," Armstrong said.

Officers recommend residents keep such options in mind and hope to continue spreading the word, especially at schools, although the process for doing that in some cases is still being considered.

"Obviously, that's a sensitive subject," Armstrong said. "How do you talk about a gunman with little kids? But it is done." 

Presenters for the program, who include officers Ricky Arias, Mike Guerra and Sgt. Russ Mengel, want to facilitate conversations they hope will continue past training. 

"You need to keep this conversation going in the days, months, weeks and years to be effective," Mengel said. "It's not a plan you can stick on the back shelf and have it be successful if that time comes."

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Abby Hamblin covers city government in Santa Maria and Guadalupe for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow her on Twitter: @AbbyHamblin.