I was privileged to have the opportunity to keynote the Michigan State Police Homeland Security Conference a few years ago. The response to my session was favorable and they had to bring in an additional 200 seats to accommodate a surge in attendance for a breakout session on advanced school emergency preparedness concepts following the keynote. This high level of interest in the topic speaks volumes about the dedication, care and concern for student safety by Michigan educators and public safety officials.
The MSP decided to do three one day conferences in different cities around the state this week and I felt honored to be allowed to keynote these sessions as well. Repeat conferences were held at the Macomb intermediate School District, the Michigan State Police Academy and at Western Michigan State University to make it easier for educators and public safety officials to attend in tight budget times.
The MSP serve not only as the lead state law enforcement agency but also function as the state’s emergency management agency as well. The agency works diligently to provide emergency management training and support to Michigan schools and is currently using a FEMA grant to provide STEP training at no cost to Michigan students. This program was developed through the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency and FEMA. When I keynoted the Rhode Island state school safety conference earlier this year, educators and public safety officials literally raved about the STEP program which is designed to teach students how to prepare for and survive crisis situations. I have no doubt that the same outcomes will occur in Michigan as well.
I was particularly pleased this week to have had such good attendance and participation from educators who far outnumbered public safety officials in the sessions. Often, conferences on school emergency preparedness held in the early Fall and late Spring are not convenient for educators to attend. We had a diverse group of educators, law enforcement officers, fire service, emergency medical service and emergency management personnel in attendance as well as a number of school safety consultants who wanted to learn more about evidence-based emergency preparedness measures.
I was also pleasantly surprised to see how eager participants were to participate in interactive activities. In fact, I gave out more than forty Safe Havens books and training DVDs to attendees. I typically give out books and DVDs to people who contribute with brilliant comments and probing questions during the day. I thought I was well prepared with so many door prizes, but wish my luggage space would have accommodated another thirty or so books as I could have easily given them out due to the high level of insightful participation by attendees.
I was deeply touched by the personal conversations I had with an emergency manager who related how he was badly bullied. I equally touched by a conversation with a police chief who served in the United States Navy in Vietnam and survived a gunshot wound from a shotgun as a police officer. I spoke to several other Vietnam vets about their valuable service to our country, the friends they lost and how they now remain in service to their country as educators and public safety officials. A Michigan State Police Sergeant told me how she had found the courage to stand up to a teacher who was verbally abusing a student who was gay when she was in high school years ago. To me, this is a different kind of valor and it should not surprise us that she now puts her life on the line to protect others when she was willing to accept risk to protect another student as a teenager. These fine and brave men and women epitomize everything that we respect about American heroes.
Most of our staff at Safe Havens have been blessed with the opportunity to travel to other countries in our work. The context we observe in Mexico, Bolivia, South Africa, Vietnam, the Congo, Rwanda, Honduras, Guatemala and other far-away places we have visited is hard to describe at times. Wherever we go, we meet truly impressive people who care deeply about children and youth.
I have been blessed to meet many true American heroes like these outstanding men and women in Michigan who have dedicated their lives to making the world a safer place for their fellow citizens. This week has reminded me once again that we are truly blessed to have so many heroes walking among us who will accept nothing less than the very best for our children.
I was delighted to receive this awesome print depicting Michigan State Troopers following my presentation at the Michigan State Police Academy. Sergeant Michelle Robinson presented it to me after I had made a comment about how cool the photo was in the framed display at the academy. The officers are equipped with a bolt action rifle, a Thompson Submachine Gun, a Winchester model 1897 police riot shotgun and a tear gas gun. As I told attendees, these guys probably had no idea just how cool they would look decades after they posed for this photograph. The Michigan State Police recently celebrated their 95th anniversary and all MSP personnel should be proud of the institution these men represent.