City, schools reassure community about safety plan

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published December 27, 2012

HARPER WOODS — In the aftermath of the tragedy in Connecticut, where a lone gunman ended so many lives at an elementary school, Harper Woods and the local school districts wanted to reassure the community that they have safety precautions and procedures in place.

“I have received several calls from residents expressing concern about the tragic events in Connecticut last week and other recent shootings around the country,” Harper Woods Police Chief James Burke stated in a release Dec. 17. “These types of incidents are referred to as ‘Active Shooter’ situations, and I want to reassure all of our residents that our officers train to handle this type of an incident, and we work closely with our mutual aid partners so that an immediate response can be made with an adequate number of police officers. We also work with our schools and assist them in reviewing and updating their safety plans.”

Burke directed residents to a Department of Homeland Security website booklet, where residents can learn more about steps they should take if they are ever around such a situation, including survival techniques and what police will do when they are on the scene.

“My hope is that you never need the information provided, but having it may help you stay safe, if you are ever put into an active shooter situation,” Burke said. 

He invited anyone with concerns or questions to contact the police department.

Harper Woods Schools Superintendent Todd Biederwolf commented on the situation at last week’s school board meeting, saying that he wanted to reflect on the district’s security measures, in light of the tragedy.

He said each of the district’s schools has a safety plan, specific to its own layout. All of the schools have safety procedures like locked doors with video surveillance.

Biederwolf emphasized the work the district does with police to make sure safety procedures are practiced. For instance, a couple of years ago, police did SWAT training in a district building. Earlier this year, the police used a district bus at Salter Park to do training, in case there was ever an emergency involving a bus.

Earlier in December, police and district officials met to review the plans and procedures.

“Safety for students and staff must always be our first priority,” Biederwolf said.

“In the event of an emergency, lockdown protocol are established,” he said.

He said, while everyone is remembering and grieving for the students who lost their lives in Connecticut, Biederwolf said safety procedures and the preparedness of staff also kept many students safe during that tragedy.

Biederwolf wanted to reiterate that the district has TIP 411, which allows students, parents or community members to send anonymous tips to district officials. With this service, people can send a text to TIP 411 with HWSDTIP as the first part of the text, and it will be sent to district officials.

“Information is powerful, and when we have information, we can use it to … enhance safety for all,” Biederwolf said.

Grosse Pointe Public Schools Superintendent Thomas Harwood wrote a letter to families in the district to give them more information on what the district does to keep students and staff safe at all times.

“It is with a great deal of sadness that I bring this news to you and my thoughts go out to the many families that are suffering from a senseless act of violence,” Harwood stated.

“As our GPPSS families determine the best way to discuss this tragic event with their own children, please know that the safety of our students is always paramount.”

Harwood stated that school doors remain locked during school hours. Those who need to get in to pick up a child or for other school business must be buzzed in.

“We collaborate closely with our local law enforcement to ensure the safety of our children and staff,” he stated. “We have valid and detailed safety plans for all of our schools.”

Things seemed to go well Dec. 17 during the first day of school, following the events in Connecticut.

“Our parents have been wonderful about asking questions regarding what procedures we have in place, and offering specific suggestions to ensure a safe and secure learning environment for students,” Grosse Pointe Schools Community Relations specialist Rebecca Fannon said in an email Dec. 17. “This morning, all of our buildings discussed safety with staff. ... Later this week, we’ll be discussing uniformity in district-wide practices during our administrative council meeting.”

Fannon has sent additional information to parents after Harwood’s letter was sent out, asking parents to feel free to ask questions. She said that district officials met with public-safety officials for the Grosse Pointes and Harper Woods in the last month and discussed all of the procedures and plans for emergency scenarios. At that time, they handed out their latest emergency plans to allow public safety officials to help with any updates needed.

“In every instance, we follow the lead of our local public safety,” Fannon said in the email. “They train in our buildings and regularly work with our staff to get to know the unique physical and personal needs of each school. We will be discussing this at our administrative council meeting this week to continue to improve the processes we have in place.”