Tech Innovations

Providing a Bird’s-Eye View to Local Law Enforcement

Location: New Hampshire By Becky Lewis Published February 2014

The facts laid out in the Incident Command Post Briefing sound grim indeed: senior boy with a weapon and an unknown amount of ammunition, a teacher and 20 students held hostage in a second-floor classroom. Although the first responders and SWAT team members have some knowledge of the interior based on an active shooter drill held three months earlier, they don’t have to rely on their memories alone. Large-format maps provided by the New Hampshire Department of Safety, complete with floor plans and color-coding, fill in the details.

“Following the events at Sandy Hook Elementary, Gov. Maggie Hassan met with senior staff and asked us what we could do to be proactive about school safety,” says Sean Goodwin, GIS administrator for the Department of Safety’s Division of Emergency Services.

“Our agency operates with the philosophy that when the emergency or disaster occurs, you need to already have the data. So, we implemented a project to put printed images of all schools in the state into large-format maps and get them into law enforcement hands. We set a goal, we established a vision, we put everything into motion and we delivered it on time.”

Delivering on time meant that by the end of 2013, each of the state’s 207 local law enforcement agencies, as well as all regional SWAT teams, had a map set for every school in their jurisdiction. The project rolled out in stages, first for the state’s 78 public high schools, then the 83 middle schools and finally the 315 elementary schools. The Department of Safety will include the state’s 197 private schools in the project as well. During 2014, the project will continue by providing each jurisdiction with electronic PDF files for all schools in their jurisdiction, which could then be accessed via email, smartphone and tablet, as well as shared with local fire departments and EMS.

Using in-house data and equipment, the Department of Safety met with local law enforcement to design a geographic data and production model applicable to every jurisdiction in New Hampshire and thus provided a tangible resource for first responders to use in school emergencies, Goodwin says. Map sets cost approximately $45 each to prepare, and include:

  • Incident Command view (1 inch = 200 feet), a facility-centered orientation that provides location awareness and labels for surrounding roads.
  • Campus View (1 inch = 100 feet), identifying campus-specific features (areas for staging, evacuation, traffic and access control, search and rescue) by using an approximate 1-acre reference grid.
  • Tactical View (1 inch = 25 feet), with selected building areas labeled.
  • Tactical Interior, similar to Tactical View with the addition of black-and-white floor plans, access points and other site-specific features. (This view is available only if the school system superintendent provided floor plans to the Department of Safety).

“One of the challenges going forward will be getting other people involved to ensure that the data is updated. We’ll need a big push to ensure that any changes in the buildings, in the floor plans, are provided to us,” Goodwin says. The aerial imagery behind the project came from a data collection project conducted jointly by the state Departments of Safety and Transportation in 2010. An update to that project is scheduled to take place in 2015.

“We’ll update the Tactical Interior maps more frequently if a school wants to add more information. We can do a ground data collection and update their maps for them,” Goodwin says. “We knew we could provide everybody with a baseline level, and for those that want to invest and add to it, we’ll go forward. We do recognize that everybody may not have the resources to dedicate to it.”

Whether or not those local school system resources provided input for a Tactical Interior View, the response from the state’s law enforcement agencies has been positive: “It gives them a tool they’ve never had before. The maps are detailed and large enough to spread across a table — or the hood of car!”