School & Emergency Leaders Collaborate to Enhance School Safety

oassnsummitEach day, over 55,000 children are sent to school buildings across Ottawa and Allegan Counties to learn. Keeping all of these children safe at those school buildings is equally as important as ensuring their academic success.

On March 14, the Ottawa Area Secure Schools Network (OASSN), a combined effort between schools, law enforcement, and emergency responders within the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District (OAISD) to enhance school safety across the region, held its Spring Summit at the Ottawa County Fillmore Administration Building in West Olive. Over 100 representatives from public, private, and charter schools, law enforcement agencies and fire departments attended the event that strengthened regional school safety collaboration. This is the fourth OASSN summit.

At any given moment, school personnel may need to respond to an array of emergency incidents that extend beyond active shooters to include natural disasters, severe storms, and other violent incidents. These events may occur in classrooms, stadiums, school buses, auditoriums and other venues. Many incidents require the coordinated effort of the schools, local, state, and federal agencies partnering together to successfully respond.

The 3 1/2 hour Spring 2019 Summit focused on the development and implementation of an Incident Command System, a structure of response used day-to-day by law enforcement and emergency responders. Incident Command Structure integrates with emergency plans of schools and ensures clear communication and control during an incident. School personnel worked side-by-side with area first responders in brief tabletop exercises and simulations. The training highlighted how the schools can further use the command structure and plans to prevent emergency incidents altogether when expecting large crowds.

The Summit also reviewed protocol for the initial responders. Initial responders are those personnel such as teachers, bus drivers, coaches or other staff leading the students before the emergency responders, such as police officers, arrive.

“The Summit highlighted  two perspectives we must keep in mind as we deal with any emergency event. On the one hand, we need each individual – especially those like teachers who have a duty of care for their students – to be what we call an ‘initial responder’ who are equipped and ready to act in a split second to any situation. On the other hand, schools, first responders, and others must learn how to act as a ‘coordinated system’ to manage an event or crisis through response and recovery activities. The Summit introduced the participants to both the bottom-up and top-down protocols and practices to be successful from both perspectives, ” said Michael Rohwer, Assistant Superintendent of Security Operations for the OAISD.

“All the players in the room have great working relationships and this day builds upon that,” said Steve Kempker, Ottawa County Sheriff. “Bringing the region together to learn more about school safety and security with one another and from one another makes sense. In the unfortunate instance of a school emergency, the Summit gives everyone the resources and tools to respond and work together more effectively.”

Goals of OASSN are to coordinate and share training across all agencies; share practices and plans across the region and between agencies; and develop common safety procedures, protocol and language.

The Ottawa Area Secure Schools Network is a regional collaboration between public, private, and charter schools, law enforcement agencies, and fire departments within Ottawa Area Intermediate School District to work proactively toward maintaining and improving school safety. Through regional collaboration and shared practices, agencies can pool resources to stay on the forefront of school safety for all K-12 schools in the region.