School Safety & Knox Boxes
With the recent memories of tragedies at Oxford High School and the Robb Elementary School, student safety is a pressing concern in the minds of Michigan families. For local schools and public safety officials across the state, the question is how to guarantee students the right to learn in a safe environment. The rise of school based violence is a complex issue, almost as complicated as how to empower and safeguard students against potential threats.
In 2019, the Oceana County Sheriff’s Department recognized that preparing schools for emergency lockdowns was not enough, as it prevented public safety officials from being able to provide life-saving aid. The Sheriff’s Department and the Foundation’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC) partnered to install Knox Boxes at every school in Oceana County. Through the Oceana Youth Fund and the Community Investment Fund, YAC awarded the Sheriff’s Department an initial grant of $3,000. The Knox Box project received a second grant of $2,098 from the Foundation’s Friends of Oceana County Sheriff’s Office Fund.
Named after the well-protected Fort Knox in Kentucky, Knox Boxes are small steel boxes installed outside buildings. The boxes house the building’s master key set and are locked 24/7. Emergency personnel can access the boxes through their agency’s serialized, unduplicatable Knox Box key. Each box in Oceana County will open with the same key. Access to an Oceana Knox Box key is monitored under the protective eye of local public safety officials. The project placed two boxes outside of the schools’ entrances. Before Knox Boxes, emergency personnel faced the issue of breaking into the locked building or finding an available key.
“For many years, law enforcement has been asking and encouraging our schools to make their buildings more secure. The schools have succeeded in this goal,” Oceana County Undersheriff Ryan Schiller explained. “Unfortunately, our schools are now so hard to get into that the reverse problem exists – our public safety professionals cannot get in when an emergency occurs. We believe we need to be proactive and prepare to the best of our abilities.”
While delayed by the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, the Knox Boxes were installed throughout Oceana County’s school districts in the spring of 2022. The boxes are weather-and tamper-proof. They are designed to last for years once mounted outside the schools’ main entrances. The Oceana County Sheriff’s Department and other emergency agencies plan to provide crisis training to school officials, incorporating the Knox Boxes into their response process. The Knox Boxes will be tested throughout these training exercises to ensure their usability in time-sensitive situations.
The innovative thinking of the Oceana County Sheriff’s Office led to the Knox Box project to enhance our schools’ existing safety measures. As a one-time investment, Knox Boxes are a lasting commitment to our students’ and teachers’ well-being. The successful installation of the Knox Boxes is due to the collaboration between the Sheriff’s Department and its county-wide school safety committee, a group of public safety professionals and every Oceana superintendent. Together, they identified the ongoing need to make school campuses accessible to emergency aid. Every school district was committed to installing the Knox Boxes and continuing the conversation on how to maximize student safety.
The partnership between the Foundation’s Youth Council and the Sheriff’s Department is crucial to connecting students and public safety officials to work together for safe learning environments.