If the O.J. Simpson trial inspired law enforcement agencies across the country to take a more painstaking approach to the collection and preservation of evidence, the mass shootings that occurred at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech motivated just as many agencies to consider creating emergency management response plans. There are good reasons to develop such strategies, and to train in them, prior to an incident. Unfortunately, quite often this interest dawns after the fact, as many first responders, as well as manufacturers of these emergency management software and hardware systems will attest.
At one time this could be attributed to a dearth of products on the market designed for this purpose. Additionally, the ones that were available were often technically overwhelming, difficult to implement and quite costly. But this is rapidly changing, affording most agencies the opportunity to add preplanning systems to their toolboxes regardless of budget or technical capabilities.From simple to complex
Some emergency management systems offer a full menu of functions. These systems are typically Web-based, enabling users to instantly communicate information to as many people as desired. These tools can assist in preplanning responses to incidents involving, for example, hazardous materials, which affords the ability to identify the materials involved, calculate safe distances and evacuation routes, and even provide information on recommended respirator types based on the spill or fire.
These same systems can include mapping applications that let responders know the exact layout of a particular facility. Their mapping capabilities also can be applied to very broad areas such as entire cities, enabling responders to determine safe evacuation routes in the event of an attack or natural disaster and helping locate critical businesses that might exacerbate the situation, such as (in the case of a widespread fire) buildings that store propane or factories that house explosive chemicals.
But other systems are more pared down. They may, for example, primarily focus on helping agencies respond to a relatively contained event, such as a school shooting, as opposed to responding to an array of incidents, natural or otherwise, that have a potentially broader impact. The available systems run the gamut of capabilities, but one commonality they share is helping first responders know everything they need to know about a facility or group of buildings and their layout before they leave their vehicles.
Let's use the example of a high school to get an idea of the kind of data these systems capture, although there is some variance among products. Typically, responders would be able to access information, by floor, about classroom location and kind. This would be important in the case of a chemistry classroom or a woodshop, for example. The position of doors and windows, including interior doors and door swing information could be noted, as well as the location of plumbing, bathrooms, fire suppression systems, electrical systems, stairwells, entrances and exits, and so on. All phone numbers can be captured, as well as classroom phone extensions. Many of these programs allow responders to immediately communicate important changes, such as blocked exits, or rooms that have been swept and cleared. In the case of multiple-building campuses, this data can be captured for every building, along with a general campus layout that includes information on pathways, driveways and more. In some cases, aerial photos of the site are also included.