ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — Rockford Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Mike Shibler says he first assembled a security department in 1998 after a school shooting in Jonesboro, Arkansas.
“There was a shooting in Arkansas at a middle school in which a student had a rifle and he pulled the fire alarm and then when students exited the building, he started shooting them,” he remembered.
Five people were killed.
That was the year before the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado that killed 13.
That death toll has been eclipsed by more than one school shooting since then, most recently on Wednesday, when a 19-year-old former student opened fire in a high school in Parkland, Florida, near Boca Raton. Seventeen people were killed.
In the last two decades, districts across the country have put extra security measures in place meant to deter such shootings.
In the last few years alone, the Rockford district has installed vestibules at school entrances and shatterproof glass on first-floor windows. The district trained its entire staff on how to respond to an emergency, and placed added focus on preventative mental health programs for students.
“Rockford has been a proactive district in terms of prevention and security,” Firestorm Solutions Chief Security Officer Jason Russell, a school security consultant, said. “What they understand is it has to happen in layers. So you have to start with assessments, looking at what your weaknesses are and fixing them, which is something that Rockford did really well.”
It’s a far cry from the security operations of 20 years ago.
“Probably you may have one person, maybe at a high school, maybe walking the halls,” Shibler recalled.
But even with all of today’s advancements, Shibler admits no one is completely safe.
“Any public arena, it’s going to be difficult to stop this,” he said.
Russell, also a former Secret Service agent, says many schools across the country now have secure entry points, sometimes with ballistic glass, camera surveillance and the ability to lock classrooms from the inside. But, he noted, just having the infrastructure isn’t enough.
“One of the biggest weaknesses we see in many districts that have them is the people that control the vestibules have never received any training,” Russell said. “So what it becomes essentially is a very expensive doorbell.”
In the Parkland shooting, the shooter was already inside the building…