How digital maps are making schools in this state safer

Virginia is making $6.5 million in reimbursements to create interactive digital maps for first responders.

Most schools supply maps to police and other first responders but unrolling a set of blueprints can waste critical seconds when responding to an emergency.

In what may be the first such statewide effort, the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety is making $6.5 million in reimbursements available for districts to create interactive digital maps that can be more easily accessed by responders during a crisis, whether it’s an active shooter, weather emergency or another incident.

“If there’s a crisis on the English wing of a high school, first responders aren’t going to know where Mrs. Miller’s English class is and where the closest door is,” says Donna P. Michaelis, director of the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety. “It gives them the ability to accurately plan where to stage and gain entry in the most efficient manner.”

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The maps, known as Collaborative Response Graphics, are not simply digital versions of a school’s floor plan. The digital maps, which can be accessed from tablets, smartphones and laptops, are overlaid with an aerial photo so first responders know the exact location of the emergency. Incident commanders can pull up the digital floor plan and tell crews exactly where to respond. The maps can also help officials evacuate buildings and pick reunification areas for parents and students. So far, about 340 schools in 29 of the state’s 132 districts (which are called “divisions” in Virginia) have taken advantage of the program.

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School divisions are required to update their crisis plan annually and share them with first responders. Michaelis said another goal of the digital mapping program is to open better dialogues between K-12 administrators and emergency officials. “We’re preparing an all-hazards approach to emergencies,” she says. “Some high schools and middle schools had 40 to 50 doors. Getting to the right door in the most efficient manner can save lives.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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