How a School District Collaborated with Local Fire to Build Emergency Ops Center
Center Grove Community School Corporation partnered with two local fire departments to build a co-located emergency operations center and fire station.
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GREENWOOD, Ind. — Crisis events at schools have unfortunately become more common in the U.S. No community wants to think about whether it could “happen here.” However, those of us responsible for the safety and education of our community’s children don’t have that luxury.
In my role, as Assistant Superintendent in charge of operations for Center Grove Community School Corporation (CGCSC), I oversee the Center Grove Police Department (CGPD) and Student Services for the district. CGPD Chief Ray Jackson and I work with community safety agencies to continually review and improve district and school safety plans.
Located in a suburban area just south of Indianapolis, Ind., the school district, with an enrollment of 9,170 students (PreK-12) that covers 42 square miles with ten schools, is one of the largest, unincorporated areas in the state.
In 2008, a new law in Indiana passed, allowing schools to establish their own school police department. In February 2008, the CGCSC Board of School Trustees authorized the establishment of the CGPD, becoming the second school police department in Indiana. The department currently has a chief of police, five school resource officers (SROs), four School Safety Officers (SSO), and three K-9 dogs.
All CGPD SROs and SSOs complete training by the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) Basic, Advanced, and Adolescent Mental Health courses and are certified Indiana School Safety Specialists, having attended the Basic and Advanced training. In June 2019, CGPD became the first school police department in Indiana to be recognized by NASRO when they received the Model SRO Agency Award in recognition as a Model SRO Program throughout the United States.
In 2019, CGCSC contracted with Safe Havens International, a company that specializes in school safety, to conduct a safety audit of the school district. Safe Havens found two significant gaps in our safety plans:
- Reduce response time by first responders to crisis events at our schools.
- Increase the live monitoring of cameras and alarms.
Our school board has invested in nearly 700 cameras throughout the district, but the district has not had a location dedicated to camera monitoring or the staff to continually monitor them.
Acting on a recommendation from Michael Dorn of Safe Havens International, we visited Guy Grace, then Director of Security and Emergency Planning at Littleton Public Schools in Littleton, Colo., to observe their school safety department. Based on guidelines from Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS), whose advisory council Guy is vice-chair of, we came to the conclusion that we needed a facility that would allow us to monitor our cameras and alarm systems from a location that could also provide quick response time to our main campus where nearly 10,000 people pass through on a daily basis.
In 2018, the school corporation was approached by the White River Township Fire Department (WRTFD) in search of land to build a fire station that was being displaced due to new interstate construction. We settled on a two-acre parcel of land between one of our middle schools and an elementary school. Having a fully-staffed fire department on school grounds, nestled between two schools, felt like an ideal solution to not only provide a quick response but to also be a deterrent to anyone wanting to do harm to our students or staff.
That project led us to gauge the interest of WRTFD and the Bargersville Community Fire Department (BCFD) in partnering on an Emergency Operations Center (EOC). This time, we would look at not just building it, but also partnering with the departments to staff it. That concept was well received by both fire departments and their fire protection boards.
The Center Grove Emergency Operations Center/Station 254 is approximately 14,100 square feet and will provide central monitoring for the nearly 700 security cameras, alarms, and severe weather conditions for the entire school corporation. The CGPD will occupy approximately 5,100 square feet of the building as their headquarters, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department substation, monitoring, and kennels for the three K-9s.
The WRTFD and the BCFD shares the remaining 9,000 square feet which includes eight individual dorm and locker rooms with four shared bathrooms and three apparatus bays. The two fire departments will provide EMS and fire services to all of White River Township and the schools as needed. They will have a full-time staff of firemen and paramedics 24/7, equipped with an ambulance and a ladder truck.
According to the Indiana State Fire Marshal, Joel Thacker, this is the first station in Indiana jointly manned by different fire departments. In fact, this joint-venture between four government entities is the first of its kind in a K-12 setting in Indiana, and possibly, the United States.
“This novel approach to protecting the community could only be accomplished by working together,” said Jeremy Pell, Chief, WRTFD. “Our children and neighborhoods are much safer by this coordinated effort between the school, police, fire, and EMS. I couldn’t be more proud of our Center Grove community for putting such a high priority on public safety.”
Ray Jackson, CGPD Chief of Police echoed his sentiment, stating, “This is huge and more than I’ve ever imagined. Our agencies have always worked well together and have thought outside the box when brainstorming about cross-training and bringing these entities together.”
“Working together with these organizations will help provide a safe and secure environment for our students and staff, as well as better coverage for the residents of White River Township,” said Eric Funkhouser, BCFD Chief. “This partnership will lead to a better-prepared response from all of us by lowering response times, improving communication, and allowing us the opportunity to train together on a daily basis.”
The first week the building was open, the ambulance and fire department responded to a medical emergency at one of our elementary schools in under 90 seconds. Their quick response and immediate transport to the hospital allowed this student to receive lifesaving care. It’s just one example of how critically important it is to have the right people, in the right place, at the right time.
Bill Long, Ed.D, is Assistant Superintendent for the Center Grove Community School Corporation in Greenwood, Indiana.
Does your school or district have a success story they’d like to share that could help other districts undertaking similar projects? Please reach out to Campus Safety’s Senior Editor Amy Rock at [email protected]