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Providing first responders with a digitized map of school buildings may result in quicker response times and less confusion during crises.
The frequency of school shootings incidents has grown in recent years, and the May Uvalde, Texas, tragedy that resulted in 21 casualties highlighted the importance of effective communications among responders.
Schools that have digitized maps of their building floor plans can improve crisis response, speed assistance and eliminate confusion in a multi-agency response, according to Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
In Virginia, more than 1,000 public schools and 85 school divisions participate in the K-12 Digital Mapping Program, which uses electronic floor plans created with collaborative response graphics technology as a visual communication tool during emergencies. CRG combines up-to-date floor plans, high-resolution imagery, emergency response pre-planning and gridded overlays onto one map that is available to responders on cell phones and laptops. It gives administrators and first responders inside and outside the building a common operating picture from which they can coordinate their response.
The process involves taking an image of the school’s floor plan and orienting it to face true north to standardize users’ view of a facility, said Mike Rodgers, CEO of Critical Response Group – one of the vendors offering the service. From there, engineers go through the building and note any changes from the school’s original layout so that the digital floor plan is up to date, he said in an August webinar. The digital map also gets site-specific labels to eliminate confusion between school staff and responders.
The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services’ Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety introduced the program in April to help public schools develop digital floor plans. The commonwealth will reimburse each school up to $3,500 for creating digital maps. Schools considering participating should discuss the initiative with their local first responders before they decide to apply for the program. Schools can then seek out a vendor that provides CRG technology, according to the program overview.
K–12 public schools that opt into the program must share the digitized maps with local and state first responders to aid the response in the event of an emergency or crisis.
“Mass casualty events across the nation have underscored the importance of communication and collaboration with first responders prior to an incident,” Virginia officials said. “Accurate floor plans, high-resolution imagery, emergency response pre-planning, and true north gridded overlay in one map will enhance response time and eliminate confusion in a multi-agency response.”