- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2022

At least 22 states have invested in digitizing maps of K-12 public schools for law enforcement agencies to use during emergencies such as mass shootings.

Iowa, New Jersey, Virginia and Wisconsin have launched multimillion-dollar initiatives to digitize school blueprints for local police agencies over the past six months. Eighteen other states are digitizing school maps as they tweak safety protocols for mass shootings, according to Critical Response Group Inc., the nation’s largest school-mapping contractor.

“Most school buildings are 50 years old and have blueprints or schematics that aren’t accurate or available to law enforcement,” said company CEO Mike Rodgers. “When you digitize a map, you can share it more easily with first responders.”

Mr. Rodgers said Critical Response Group has mapped 5,000 K-12 campuses.

According to law enforcement officials, digitizing maps will reduce emergency response times in situations like the May 24 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Law enforcement agencies have been sharply criticized for not entering the building and engaging the shooter, who killed 19 children and two teachers during a 74-minute spree as officers waited outside.

“Schools can be complex facilities with varying designs and large meandering footprints,” said Jonathan F. Thompson, executive director of the National Sheriffs’ Association. “Having access to layouts and designs with an accurate map is important for response to safety needs.”

In April, Virginia launched the country’s first statewide digital mapping initiative for public schools. Since then, more than 1,000 schools and 85 districts have participated.

The commonwealth has allocated $3,500 per public school and $3.3 million overall for the program, according to a September statement from Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

“Our children’s safety is the utmost priority and I’m pleased that my administration is taking key steps to enhance school safety,” said Mr. Youngkin, a Republican.

Public schools that opt into Virginia’s K-12 Digital Mapping Program must share digitized maps with local and state first responders to have on file in the event of an emergency. The maps include high-resolution images and a gridded overlay map.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, announced in June that she would direct $6 million of COVID-19 relief funds to a digital mapping project.

Wisconsin officials announced a $2 million grant program in July. It will run for two years and grant up to $5,000 per school as an incentive to switch from blueprints to digital maps.

In August, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, announced a $6.5 million grant program. As part of the plan, the New Jersey State Police will map 1,320 public and charter schools by the start of next school year.

“To have those digitized images on a device could really help school resource officers,” said Mo Canady, the executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers. “I’d like to see them be able to send those maps directly to responding police units.”

Many states have required public schools to share blueprints with law enforcement since the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado. But not all schools have kept up-to-date maps on file with first responders.

Before Mr. Youngkin’s initiative, the National Center for School Safety found in a 2019 survey that 1 in 3 Virginia schools had not shared an electronic floor plan with police.

The new statewide programs will generate critical incident maps, a technique modeled on maps that U.S. special operations forces have used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Critical incident maps usually include up-to-date information about entrances, stairwells, electronic door locks, utility lines, first aid kits and utility lines — allowing first responders to see the inside of any classroom where a 911 call originates.

According to figures released by the state programs, each digital map costs between $3,5000 and $5,000 to create with software and 3D scanners.

Some health officials have cautioned against thinking the maps will reduce gun violence in public schools.

“While providing digital maps to local officials might be helpful in efforts to increase school safety, I have to admit it seems a bit like rearranging the furniture on the Titanic,” said Thomas Plante, a clinical psychologist who teaches at Santa Clara University. “School shootings are clearly a public health crisis where Americans suffer more than any other developed country on earth.”

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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