Meridian Township "well ahead of the curve" in preparing for violent emergencies

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By Ally Hamzey
The Meridian Times Staff Reporter 

Over one month after six people were killed and two others injured in a series of random shootings taken place in Kalamazoo County, Meridian Township residents and officials still face the question of how to prepare for potential violent events on the homefront.

Meridian Township Fire Chief Fred Cowper is confident of Meridian Township’s advanced planning for violent emergency situations.

“You aren’t going to find many townships with the equipment or the training that we have,” Cowper said. “We are well ahead of the curve.”

Cowper explains the Meridian Township Police Department and the Meridian Township Fire Department were awarded over $1,000,000 by the state of Michigan through a grant. Of that, $240,000 of was given to the departments to train for such emergencies, according to Cowper.

Cowper said the other $800,000 of the grant was for equipment and protective gear to utilize in an “active shooter incident”.

Cowper said training is the most crucial aspect to preparedness for violent emergencies.

“I hope we never have to use this training. However, if we do have a situation where we have a shooting incident, we will be prepared,” Cowper said. “I think you need to prepare for it. I don’t know how you could prevent that kind of situation; that may be more of a police area.”

According to gunviolencearchive.org, there have already been 56 mass shootings in the United States in 2016. In 2015, there were 330 mass shootings in the United States. In other words, there were close to as many mass shootings as there were days in the year in 2015.

The number of mass shootings in the United States has risen greatly over the years. Data courtesy of gunviolencearchive.org, and a USA Today database. Graph by Ally Hamzey.

The number of mass shootings in the United States has risen greatly over the years. Data courtesy of gunviolencearchive.org, and a USA Today database. Graph by Ally Hamzey.

Support Services Division Commander of Michigan State University Police Penny Fischer believes police and fire departments need to focus on both preparing and preventing violent crises.

“You have to be prepared, because in this society we know it can happen. Unfortunately, we see way too many cases where it has happened,” Fischer said. “A lot of places are very heavily involved in the preparing part now. We also need to start engaging our thoughts on what do we do to prevent it to begin with. Are there known sources that people go to in distress? We need to help reinforce what those are. That could help people in conflict or in crisis.”

Fischer believes the first step in preparing for violent emergencies is to “have a plan in place, where communication, outreach and notification to the community” is implemented.

“Once you have created a plan, you should train everyone with what that plan may be. When you are trying to train to the plan, consider what should be every person’s role and if they understand it.” Fischer said. “After you train, just practice. Take simulated events, see how people respond, see where the plan is weak and where you need more training.”

Fischer believes the most challenging aspect in preparing for events like a mass shooting is communication.

“Communication is the most difficult thing in the middle of any kind of disaster. There is so much going on and so much that needs to get done,” Fischer said. “[It’s important to be] prioritizing how you make sure those who need to know information know through platforms that best work.”

Fischer said that the best way everyday citizens can help prepare for potential crises is to “have a plan in place” and to “be involved in the community in a collaborative way”.

“Over the course of the year, find out something you can do once a month to be prepared. Prepare kits. Make sure you have appropriate water supplies, and that you’ve covered medication needs,” Fischer said.

Okemos resident Madeline Dilley is unsure if prevention of violent occurrences like mass shootings is possible. However, Dilley said she believes “the city is heavily patrolled with police and would most likely be prepared in the case of an emergency.”

A Meridian Township fire truck passes by the fire station. Photo by Ally Hamzey.

A Meridian Township fire truck passes near the fire station. Photo by Ally Hamzey.

“I believe you can only prepare for those types of occurrences since people are unpredictable and you cannot control their actions,” Dilley said.

Dilley said the close proximity of the Kalamazoo shooting and the large number of mass shootings in the United States in the past few years does make her concerned about the possibility of a violent emergency close to home.

“With mass shootings happening so often in the U.S., including a college community so close in proximity, it is difficult to not have those kinds of fears,” Dilley said. “I do believe this is a relatively safe place, but seeing that it can happen anywhere makes it a very real potential problem.”

“As citizens, we are all responsible to be prepared for a variety of things that could happen in our lives,” Fischer said. “The more prepared individuals are, the more prepared communities are as a whole.”