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Schools and Law Enforcement Get on the Same Page

Critical Response Group has taken the floor plans of nearly 14,000 schools, updated them and integrated that data with local law enforcement systems, developing a solution that helps when seconds count.

close up of closed school doors through which lockers are visible
It’s common that when public safety officials arrive at a school that is experiencing a crisis, like an active shooter incident, the various responding agencies will be operating on different radio channels and computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems and won’t be able to communicate.

What’s also common is that when law enforcement moves forward into a school with an active shooter, the floor plans that they may be able to access to help better assess the situation will be incorrect.

There's now a solution to help address both problems, and some states, like Wisconsin, have passed critical incident mapping legislation to ensure that first responders get an accurate and up-to-date picture of schools and can communicate with each other.

Critical Response Group (CRG) has mapped nearly 14,000 schools’ floor plans with its data system and linked those floor plans to the varied systems that each local law enforcement agency uses. So if there is an active shooter at a school that has enlisted the CRG solution, the floor plans will be correct and all local agencies will be on the same page when responding and coordinate resources accordingly, even when they each have proprietary software tools.

“The primary problem CRG solves for the Newark Department of Public Safety is that it allows the police and fire command staff to see where tactical personnel are positioned in a digital format,” said Newark, N.J., Public Safety Director Fritz Fragé, who oversees the city's police and fire departments, as well as the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. “This facilitates expedited de-escalation of the incident.”

CRG was developed by Mike Rodgers, who was deployed a half-dozen times with special forces in the war in Afghanistan. While there, his unit stayed safe by deploying unique technology that allowed command to keep everyone on the same page. Rodgers thought about his wife, a teacher, and her school, and the idea of mapping schools correctly to improve first responders' work was born.

“Her school's floor plans were both inaccurate and not compatible with public safety responding to her school,” Rodgers said.

He found that to be a common occurrence because most schools were built more than 50 years ago, but over time things change and are moved around. The floor plans may also have outdated or incorrect language. For instance, the plan may refer to a room as "Room A," but school personnel know it as the nurse's office or the teachers' lounge.

Rodgers said of the nearly 14,000 schools CRG has worked on, none had a completely correct floor plan.

“Police departments, fire departments, 911 centers, they’re all buying different types of technology and the schools are all buying different types of panic buttons,” Rodgers said.

CRG comes in and assesses the building and the floor plans and walks through with a building owner to establish correctness of language and location. It then moves on to local law enforcement and integrates that school data into whatever system the local agency uses.

“We work with the school to take whatever raw data they have, we ingest that data, digitize it, clean it up and then integrate it into some software and then adopt a verification structure,” Rodgers said.

That new data is then taken to law enforcement and adapted to their systems. “So if a school already bought a panic button or a police department has a CAD, we just live in that environment,” Rodgers said. “It’s just a piece of data that’s integrated directly into their tool. When you do that, it reduces costs and makes interoperability through content.”