Obviously, arriving at the scene forearmed with this kind of knowledge offers agencies tremendous advantages, especially if they have developed an emergency response strategy and trained responders on it. By the same token, the absence of this information and lack of advance crisis planning forces responders to formulate a response plan as they go along — not an ideal approach. Consider what happened at Columbine, says Richard Neiman, president of FloorView, whose company is based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and manufactures a situational awareness system. (See "Tactical Mapping Aids" on Page 18 for details on this software and mapping offerings from other manufacturers.)
Many agencies provide only blueprints to their first responders, Nieman explains. Sometimes this is in the form of hard-copy blueprints, or blueprints contained on CD. This requires those first on the scene to find the appropriate blueprint — and there could be dozens of them, depending on the jurisdiction — lay it out across the hood of a car or load it up into the vehicle laptop, and then somehow effectively share this information with other responders. Inefficient as this is, it's better than not having blueprints at all, as was the case with the Columbine massacre.
"It took first responders to Columbine an hour to get floor plans," Nieman says. "And when they did, [the plans] were four years old. You had 11 agencies showing up; that means there were 11 commanders on the ground, and they were asking kids how to get to the cafeteria."
Responders faced a somewhat similar predicament at Virginia Tech, Nieman adds. In this case, the doors to the building where the shootings were occurring were locked, leaving local police stymied as to how to get in. FloorView software would contain this critical information, says Nieman, as well as note where keys could be found or who could be called to find them, which would eliminate surprise and confusion for those first on the scene.
Cpl. Rob Crespy with the Township of Ridley Police Department in Folsom, Pennsylvania, thinks having detailed floor plans at the ready is a great idea. Currently, he carries blueprints of the local high school as well as of the Boeing factory located in Ridley Township.
"As a result of Columbine, we've been trained how to better respond," he says. "We have a high school here — Ridley High School — and every one of us carries a hard copy of its layout and we train on these. I know every inch of that high school, and know Boeing pretty well too."
Crespy says that if he were assigned to Ridley on a rotating basis, he'd probably develop more of his own plans. "The biggest problem is that we haven't had any major incidents — which I think is just a matter of time — and so we haven't developed more detailed plans," he says. "We've just done the basics [and] I think this is a mistake. I think we need to develop more detailed floor plans that can be communicated to all first responders on the scene and to command officials."Understanding the value
The value of mapping systems is evident, but many agencies have not made serious moves in this direction — although if mass shootings like those at the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Nebraska, and the church shooting in Colorado Springs, Colorado, continue to make headlines, this will likely change. The agencies that have already done so are those where there's a lot going on, such as Las Vegas or New York City, says Duke Dutch, manager of law enforcement applications for Sokkia Corporation.
Sokkia, whose North American headquarters are located in Olathe, Kansas, manufactures precision measuring systems that agencies can use to do their own interior and exterior mapping. Two systems commonly used by law enforcement agencies are the LEA Remote Mapper and the Prismless Mapper. The Remote Mapper is robotic and mobile and goes right to the point that will be mapped. The Prismless Mapper is stationary, requiring end-users to sight — think street surveying — Dutch explains. Captured data is integrated into a software program designed for mapping and other preplanning functions.
Dutch says that most law enforcement agencies use outside parties to collect this data rather than capture it themselves through systems like theirs. While there are some advantages to having a third party handle this aspect, such as not having to manage the task themselves, there are key benefits to the do-it-yourself approach, such as accuracy, capturing what is most essential, and capturing changes.