Detroit area schools eye security after Fla. shootings

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Metro Detroit universities and school districts officials are revisiting their security efforts and crisis plans in the wake of this week’s mass shooting that killed 17 people at a Florida high school.

They’re also dealing with the reality that school shootings have become all too common.

“We’re keeping our schools as safe as we possibly can but this is unfortunately nothing new. Lockdowns have become part of the school culture like practicing tornado drills,” said David Mustonen, spokesman for Dearborn Public Schools.

The Dearborn district is installing buzz system doors, remodeling entryways to include vestibules where visitors can be checked in, adding high-definition cameras and hiring school resource officers.

Dearborn also has begun “table-top drills,” where firefighters and police officers walk school employees through crisis scenarios.

The Lake Shore Public Schools in Macomb County is implementing many of the same security upgrades. Superintendent Joe DiPonio said the district also is encouraging students to come forward if they see or hear of possible threats to school safety.

Since Wednesday’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, students and neighbors have portrayed gunman Nikolas Cruz, 19, as an often strange and hostile figure who threatened others, talked about killing animals and posed with guns on social media.

“Many things could be detected through social media,” DiPonio said. “There’s a breadcrumb trail through social media and discussion among their peers. We need to make kids safe to share that information.”

Another challenge for schools: They aren’t designed for the same level of security as an airport, DiPonio said. High schools are more difficult but need to be monitored because they operate longer and constantly have people entering and exiting.

“We don’t have the same competency to secure facilities with the (available) level of funding,” DiPonio said. “Surveillance cameras are used in determining what has already taken place, whereas we need to get to a point (of) into constant monitoring.”

Officials at the University of Michigan distributed safety tips, with advice on how to escape, hide or resist an active shooter.

Michael Wright, Wayne State University’s chief of staff and chairman of its crisis committee, said school officials spoke Thursday with the Student Senate to see what they could be doing better to ensure campus safety.

“It’s a nightmare and will continue to be, (but) we can’t let it be normal,” Wright said.

WSU already has set up a system of emergency text alerts, employed police to escort students at night and instructed campus police to respond to emergency calls within 90 seconds.

“Safety is the top priority, not to sound cliché but it is,” Wright said. “Without the safety of our students, we don’t have a campus.”

Associated Press contributed.