Virginia offering grant to help schools create digital floor plans

Published: May. 16, 2022 at 7:38 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Whether it’s a fire at an elementary school or threats of violence at area high schools, first responders need the best information to tackle these emergencies; information that at times can only be found on a school building floor plan. The difficulty comes when the floor plans are outdated or still on paper.

In response to this, Governor Glenn Youngkin signed House Bill 741, which will go into effect this summer. The law requires each school district in the state to create a detailed and accurate floor plan for each public school building in the local school division or certify that the existing floor plan for each such school is sufficiently clear and precise.

The new law doesn’t require that floor plans be made digital, only that they are up to date. The state is offering a $6.5 million program called the Digital Mapping Program to help school districts to make the switch.

Donna Michaelis is the director of the Center for School and Campus Safety, which is running the grant program that will reimburse schools up to $3,500 to make floor plans digital and transferable to first responders.

“It shows them exactly what point the incident is occurring or where to stage or where unification would be so that they can better respond to a large school building and know which door to enter into all of those types of issues,” Michaelis said.

The digital maps are called Collaborative Response Graphics (CRG), which provide site-specific, common operating pictures, enhanced communications during emergencies, high-resolution imagery, emergency response pre-planning, and gridded-overlay combined into one map. The floor plans can also be accessed by cellphone and laptop.

According to a survey conducted by the Center for School and Safety, approximately 70% of schools reported that first responders had electronic/internet-based access to current schematics for their respective division’s schools if they needed to respond to a large-scale security incident at the school. Approximately 88% of Virginia school divisions reported that law enforcement agencies had access to the building in the event of a lockdown.

“I can tell you that with the program only being open for about a week and a half, two weeks. We’ve already had a quarter of school divisions call us wanting to take advantage of this,” Michaelis said.

Michaelis says the state has partnered with New Jersey-based mapping company Critical Response Group, specializing in designing CRGs.

“So what we’ve done is we’ve really filled that void in taking what is in place today and converting it into file formats that are accessible by public safety professionals and whatever technology they use when they show up to an incident,” Critical Response Group CEO Mike Ridgers said.

Rodgers says the digital aspect also allows the maps to be updated and shared easier. Any law enforcement agency can have all the information they need about a building they are responding to, even if it’s just their first time there.

“We basically took a mapping technique that was developed for U.S. military special operations and converted it for domestic preparedness response,” Rodgers said. “Virginia is the first state in the country to really implement this from the national level from the top down, which is really exciting.”

School divisions can apply for the digital mapping program HERE.

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