Following last year’s string of school shootings across the country, local school security teams are cracking down on safety measures.
Both Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) and Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) have installed new additions to their security systems and are training students and staff how to respond in the event of a dangerous situation.
Ken O’Brien, who leads safety and security for TCAPS, tells The Ticker that area public schools have had strong security systems in place for some time.
“We’ve been able to install safety and security systems inside all of our newly-constructed elementary schools, and last year, we did install some cameras systems in those remaining elementary schools (Interlochen, Eastern, and Glen Loomis).”
All TCAPS schools now have security cameras, taping mechanisms, and panic button locks, which allow administrators to go into immediate lockdown at the push of a button. Monitoring systems show which doors are open and for how long, and staff members are required to wear visible ID at all times, which O’Brien says has been key to creating a culture of awareness.
In addition to these measures, all TCAPS schools are required by law to complete and report two intruder drills per year. The school system partners with local emergency management to respond to the drills as if they were real incidents.
“We all go out to the site,” says O’Brien. "We don’t know when it’s going to happen. We go in and give them a scenario, and say ‘this is what you’ve got, how do you proceed?’ And then they go through their lockdown procedure, which is pretty intense.”
At NMC, school officials are following suit.
Jim White, assistant director of campus safety and security, says the college has taken security seriously for many years, but that last year’s events sparked an even more focused approach to maintaining a safe campus environment.
“People say, ‘It can’t happen in Traverse City,’ but you see on the news that’s the same thing people said about Sandy Hook. So yes, it could happen here, and we took a proactive approach and went ahead and initiated some new security measures.”
White and Andy Dolan, NMC’s executive director of public relations, say the college has initiated a new lockdown training procedure, updated their phone alert system, and has been installing new locks on campus doors that can be locked quickly from the inside.
The college also created a 7-minute safety video that was required viewing for all students on this fall’s first day of school.
Both White and O’Brien say finances and technology are always considerations as new measures are planned.
TCAPS will likely use future bond dollars to reduce the number of entrances at some schools (Central High School has more than 70), while White points to the availability of new products as an issue.
“We have buildings from the 1970s that were never made for lockdowns, so we had to order a lot of special new locks. And we’re not the only campus doing this. All across the country, the lock companies are being overwhelmed with backorders.”
Still, Dolan adds, “There are just some things you have to do. You have to find a way to afford it, because safety’s the most important thing. We want students to be alert, but they’ve got enough to worry about when they come to class; we don’t want them to be worried about their safety.”