News

School emergencies hinge on e-maps

By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA

Staff writer

All five Federal Way high schools are slated to be electronically mapped to help people inside and rescuers outside handle any violent situations or other man-made or natural crises.

The work in 2004 will make school layouts available on the computer screens of emergency services personnel, including police officers, firefighters and paramedics.

A Seattle-based company coordinating the project, Prepared Response, arose out of the aftermath of the Columbine, Colo. high school tragedy over four years ago.

Company spokesman Christopher Barker said lessons were learned after the Columbine shootings. Law enforcement professionals discovered they didn’t know the layout of the school and that they weren’t able to communicate with each other using the same radio systems, Barker said.

He said Prepared Response resolves to prepare first-response personnel for catastrophes —both natural and man-made — by supplying them with an electronic map of a school and a catastrophe plan.

The electronic map and plan together are called “rapid response,” Barker said. It includes building exits, gas valve and water controls, pre-planned escape routes, school officials’ “roles” during a crisis and other details, such as where to place roadblocks or a triage unit.

The electronic map will appear on a first-response computer or PDA by way of an Internet database. The map image will be protected through a secure and encrypted password.

Prepared Response is planning to electronically map over 400 high schools statewide by the year 2005, with each rapid response system costing about $10,000 to $15,000 per school.

The ambitious plan follows the securing of a $4.8 million grant from the Legislature last June by the Washington State School Safety and Advisory Committee, an advisory group to state Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson.

“Put simply, school mapping saves lives,” said state Sen. Tracey Eide of Federal Way, who was appointed to the advisory committee in November.

“We saw this in September, when a teenager walked into a Spokane high school with a loaded gun.”

Eide said authorities were able to quickly access maps of school floor plans and escape routes, allowing police to evacuate the students less than 12 minutes after getting the 9-1-1 call, stop the gunman “and prevent anyone from getting hurt.”

Last year’s (state) capital budget provided funding for school mapping projects in about 400 Washington high schools, Eide said.

“That’s a great start, but all schools need to have this ability,” she said. “I look forward to helping middle and elementary schools get plugged into this process that keeps our kids safe.”

Officials said steps for electronically mapping middle and elementary schools statewide — along with future funding requests —are anticipated.

Federal Way Public Schools has prepared for catastrophes in the past through regular drills and the establishment of a crisis team which works closely with police and firefighters, and large pull-down charts, said district spokeswoman Diane Turner.

Each school goes through monthly fire drills, a yearly earthquake drill, and two lockdowns or intruder drills each year, said Rick LaBoyne, the district’s assistant risk manager.

Electronic mapping is the next step toward preventing another school disaster.

Prepared Response representatives will visit the five Federal Way high schools the week of Jan. 12 to explain the program. School officials and staff, as well as local police, paramedics and firefighters will be present.

In March, the company will collect data at each school, including photographs, and map out electronic worksheets.

“We help compile all that existing information plus a system that works with their locality and local safety regulation requirements,” said Prepared Response’s chief executive officer, Jim Finnell, a former paramedic.

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565, eciepiela@fedwaymirror.com

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