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Schools Try To Improve Digital Maps To Help Law Enforcement Respond


After the school shooting in Uvalde, Tx., some state lawmakers are embracing a bipartisan measure that skirts divisive gun debates: school maps and blueprints. When responding to emergencies, police, firefighters, and emergency technicians often reference those maps. Law enforcement and school safety experts say the maps are frequently inaccurate and out-of-date — potentially lengthening emergency response times, reports Stateline. In the past six months, states including Iowa, New Jersey, Virginia and Wisconsin have launched multimillion-dollar initiatives to correct and digitize school maps and get them in the hands of local law enforcement. An additional 18 states are “actively investing” in digital maps, according to Critical Response Group, Inc., the largest school-mapping contractor. "For any type of incident — it could be a bee sting — time is of the essence,” said Wisconsin state Rep. Jesse James, a former police chief who last year co-sponsored a successful bill that encouraged schools to adopt digital maps. “The floor plans that we have now just aren’t adequate.”

The new mapping initiatives, while often touted as common sense, have not been studied or evaluated the way that other school-safety measures have. “From a tactical standpoint, there is clearly some value in officers having these maps,” said Cheryl Lero Jonson, an associate professor of criminal justice at Xavier University who researches school shooting interventions. “But I would like to see more research … before we funnel millions of dollars to them.” New programs incentivize schools to create digital or “critical incident” maps — a technique modeled on maps used in special operations missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. A critical incident map might include, for example, an aerial view of a school, an overlaid atlas grid, and markers that flag entrances, stairwells, electronic door locks, utility lines, roof access points, and bleeding control kits. Once integrated into first responders’ digital systems, dispatchers and law enforcement can see the exact classroom a 911 caller is in. “These days, if you look inside a patrol car, more often than not, you’ll see a laptop or other device in there,” said Mo Canady of the National Association of School Resource Officers. “Being able to pull up digital images and maps right on that device — there’s an advantage, no doubt about it.” Leading law enforcement and school safety organizations — including the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools — recommend that administrators routinely update, share and review maps with law enforcement.

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