GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — For the 26th time this calendar year, Grand Rapids School’s Security Chief Larry Johnson’s phone rang.
Shots were fired inside a school on the east side of the state.
“You put on the TV and you start reaching out to folks and you say, ‘No, not again,'” said Johnson, a nationally known expert on school security who also serves as vice president of the National Association of School Safety and Law Enforcement Officers.
Johnson, who serves Grand Rapids as Assistant Superintendent, Chief of Staff and Executive Director of Public Safety & School Security, says the district’s active shooter plan is designed around staying safe for 20 minutes, the time it may take for law enforcement to arrive.
“We’re confident we can do that in Grand Rapids in three to five minutes,” Johnson said. “We think we can have them here. But we train for 20 minutes.”
But if they can’t leave, GRPS trains staff and students to lock the door and get to the back of the room.
“We don’t necessarily teach barricading the door,” said Johnson. “The time and effort it takes to barricade a door and move furniture, number one you’re making a lot of noise and you may be drawing attention to you.”
One of the most important elements in the GRPS safety program is silence, to make sure the person on the other side of the door that wants to cause harm can’t hear what’s going on inside the room.
That goes for digital noise as well.
As was the case in Oxford and other school active shooter cases, many students were communicating with the outside world through social media.
Those communications can provide valuable information, but they can also add to the danger.
“We have to now train our kids, don’t do that during an emergency lock down because it projects where you may be. And we do not want that to happen. We do not want to give the intruder the opportunity to know where kids are in the building,” said Johnson.
Oxford marks the 26th school shooting in the US for 2021.
Thirteen people have died.
So are we getting any closer to finding a solution to the violence in our schools?
“I think we’re getting closer to an answer,” Johnson said. “But the answer’s not coming fast enough.”
He says training student and staff to handle a situation is invaluable.
That same sort of training in Oxford likely saved lives this week.
But Johnson says more needs to be done to prevent these kinds of tragedies, and that means more mental health services.
“But not only in our schools, but in our community. Making it more available to families in crisis,” said Johnson.
GRPS trains for active shooting and other incidents the second Tuesday of every month.
The public is welcome to attend.