With an eye on safety and collaboration, Ottawa Area Secure Schools Network (OASSN) has created a well-coordinated way for schools and community agencies to work together to serve families within the Ottawa Area ISD service region. 

The Ottawa Area Secure Schools Network is a combined effort between schools, law enforcement, and emergency responders within Ottawa County and parts of Allegan County to enhance school safety across the region. 

OASSN was launched in 2015 through discussions with local law enforcement that evolved into security-related issues and school safety. While school officials attended a regional security conference, it was decided the Ottawa area could benefit from such a collaboration and the first OASSN School Summit was planned. 

The inaugural summit brought together over 85 representatives from public, private, and charter schools, law enforcement agencies, fire departments and health organizations from Ottawa and Allegan counties to coordinate and share training across all agencies; share practices and plans across the region and between agencies; and develop common safety procedures, protocol and language.  

Co-founder of Safe and Sounds Schools and guest speaker at the summit, Michele Gay, shared her heartbreaking story of losing a child in the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting and discussed crisis prevention and response in schools. Leslie Philipps, Assistant Superintendent for Jenison Public Schools says hearing a real-life story from a town that sounded a lot like Jenison spurred a big realization. 

“These things actually happen and we all need to learn more and do more,” Leslie says. “The network OASSN provides has been wonderful in connecting schools, law enforcement, mental health services and community organizations for the safety and security of our students and our community as a whole.”  

Through OASSN, groups from around the ISD collaborate through conversations, planning and shared training allowing them to work more cohesively, together. This leads to a common, streamlined approach to safety and gives schools and emergency services a better idea of what will take place in each school district.  

Derek Christensen, Chief Deputy for Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office, says “Having regular trainings and practicing means we can be our best in uncertain circumstances.” 

“The collaboration from those in the education field and all of our partners, including first responders, local law enforcement and others, we learn from each other,” Dr. Brand-Lyn Mendham, superintendent for Zeeland Public Schools, says. “if something were to happen we need to lean on and rely on each other. What sets our region apart is that we can count on one another when we need to.” 

Dr. Tim Travis, Superintendent for Saugatuck Public Schools, says working with OASSN has improved school safety by keeping an “all hazards approach” to critical incident management. “It’s moved a lot of our preparedness for a critical incident forward a great deal since the inception of OASSN.” 

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