Ex-IDF commando teaches survival at UC Irvine

Stivi knows about death. The married, father of four has about him the air of mysterious tough guy.

February 14, 2010 02:57
IDF soldiers carry a stretcher.

stretcher IDF 311. (photo credit: AP [file])


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IRVINE, California – When the shooter burst through the door, the students were ready.

They jumped over and around tables. They rushed the gunman. They screamed and tossed anything within reach; backpacks, books, pens.

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In less than five seconds, the would-be killer was on the floor, powerless to carry out his planned – and staged – massacre.

“How many shots did you get off?” the guest instructor asked after the simulated attack in a University of California, Irvine, classroom.

“Two,” the shooter said.

“How many people did you hit?”

“Maybe one. A head shot. I got off one good shot.”

Alon Stivi, the guest instructor, will take that any day.

One death; only one.

Stivi knows about death. The married, father of four has about him the air of mysterious tough guy – a vibe underscored by an accent that is difficult to pin down. Stivi was born in France and raised in Israel. He’s fluent in English, French and Hebrew, can get by in Arabic, and is studying Russian and Spanish.

But Stivi also knows violent death in ways that go deeper than accents or Hollywood cliches. Before moving to the states more than 20 years ago, Stivi spent four years in Israel’s special forces, including nearly a year in Lebanon during the 1982 war.

“I have personally witnessed soldiers, innocent civilians, and children, injured, maimed and killed at war, and in several terrorist attacks in the region – including a suicide bombing.”

Now, at 48, he’s a recognized expert on counterterrorism, violence prevention, security, and hand-to-hand combat. (Ask him if he can kill you with one finger, and Stivi – who is trained in the Israeli fighting system Hisardut (survival) – asks, “Which one?”) Stivi also has protected billionaires like Warren Buffett and politicians, including the Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

So what’s Stivi doing with all this expertise on violence and death and security? Going to school.

He’s launching a special training program to make students and office workers safer even from the most extreme forms of violence. “Schools are in denial and disorganized [about coping with violence],” Stivi says.

Orange County’s worst mass-shooting occurred at a school, on July 12, 1976, when custodian Edward Allaway opened fire on his fellow workers at Cal State Fullerton, killing seven and wounding two. Since the mid-1960s, 207 people have been in killed in on-campus shootings in the US.

“With the techniques I teach, you don’t have to be a martial artist, a solider, a policeman or policewoman to protect yourself,” Stivi says. “You can be anybody.”

Stivi doesn’t want to sound alarmist, or promote paranoia, but he’s got a message that isn’t reassuring. “No matter how quickly first responders arrive, they simply won’t be there within the first 10 minutes – when most casualties occur.”

Stivi is saying this to a crowd of about 300 in a UC Irvine class called Violence and Society, taught by Ray Novaco, a professor of psychology and social behavior.

Novaco invited several educators and law enforcement officials to hear Stivi present an overview of his new online defense course. The class teaches school officials what to do before, during and after a violent incident.

Called ACT Cert, for Attack Countermeasures Training Certification, the 25-hour course is tailored to faculty, school staff and school security. It launches nationwide next month, and typically will cost $2,500 per person.

Stivi has consulted with schools for years on safety issues, but believes a standardized online training program is long overdue. “Schools need to think seriously about security and the millions of dollars that could potentially be paid out in damages and increased insurance rates [if serious violence erupts],” Stivi says.

Cowering under tables, the students are sitting ducks. Make that, dead ducks.º

When the gunman bursts through the doors, he methodically walks around the room, picking off victims one at a time. It’s a massacre.

In a demonstration following a recent lecture, Stivi shows what not to do – sit and cower. He also shows how to survive – to act as a group and apply the tactics he terms “collective resistance.”

“You are trapped,” Stivi says. “There’s a shooter between you and a safe area. What do you do?

“There’s strength in numbers,” he adds. “You have the element of surprise.”

The UC Irvine classroom has two doors. Stivi shows students to crouch low while running out the back door after making sure the coast is clear. He shows them to stand against a wall, body low, to knock the shooter over when he enters the room.

He shows them how to use a table to disrupt a shooter’s line of sight, and he teaches other ways to distract a would-be killer – even for a few seconds. “Sometimes,” Stivi says, “a few seconds is all you need.”

Novaco, who has known Stivi for nearly 20 years, but has no financial ties to his business, says the training is effective because it’s based on what works – not theory.

“I have personally seen him instruct students of all ages and capabilities, and he trains them psychologically and in personal character, as well as physically,” Novaco says.

“He also doesn’t teach people to do things that will not work or cannot be done by them... And he knows the realities of what goes down in a violent incident.”

Says Stivi: “Everything I teach is based on common-sense things people can do. This isn’t about making people fearful, but about empowerment.”

Oscar I. Gonzalez, a doctoral candidate in psychology and social behavior attending the demonstration, calls it “one of the most valuable lessons I have ever received.”

This is true, he says, even though he’s been trained as an army medical specialist.

“Looking back at recent events highlights the obvious,” says Gonzales, 32. “This type of training could save lives and should be a standard procedure of our education system.”

    (The Orange County Register/MCT)

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