Ready and Waiting
Database-driven crisis management software solutions provide firstresponders with instant access to vital emergency information.
THICK, UNWIELDY three-ringbinders are no place to keep schoolemergency response protocols. In a crisis,information and time are critical.Precious time can be lost in locating abinder, flipping through the tabs to findthe correct section, and finally findingthe vital information. And what if anevacuation is necessary? So you lug thebinder out and start the informationsearch all over again during differentstages of the emergency? Even then, itscontents are only as good as the peoplewho created it, limited to how much thebinder can hold, and only accessible tothose on site.
But in the digital age, when information can be securely accessed and disseminated in an instant, more schools are turning to advanced measures such as database-driven crisis management software solutions.
A Better Response
Seattle-based Prepared Response was founded to help prevent tragedies like the one that transpired at Colorado's Columbine High School in 1999. There were no established protocols for that type of attack, and it forever changed the concept of school security.
Prepared Response wants to use technology to better respond to emergencies like Columbine. The company wants to help schools engage in state-of-the-art planning measures with school officials and police, fire, state patrol, and emergency services, and distribute the critical information via a secure internet connection, network, or USB storage device. Company officials believe preparedness is key to a strong defense.
To a first responder, there's nothing worse than arriving at a site and not knowing exactly where the emergency is and how to get to it. Prepared Response's Rapid Responder solution is designed to eliminate this scenario.
"We usually implement the system a whole district at a time, which includes working closely with local responders," says Jim Finnell, president and CEO of Prepared Response. "We notify them that if they get a 911 call at a specific address, that site has the Rapid Responder system. We database everything you would want to know about a critical infrastructure, so when first responders arrive at the scene, they don't have to go looking for information in order to make decisions.
"The system is not meant to replace a 911 system, but when that call does occur, within seconds, first responders can get right on the system and have immediate access to everything they need to know."
"There's no limit to what kind of information can be entered [in the system]," says Walt Pegram, district resource officer Spokane Public Schools in the state of Washington.
With Rapid Responder, school officials and first responders can instantly access more than 300 data points, including tactical plans, satellite and geospatial imagery, interior and exterior photos, floor plans, staging areas, hazardous materials, utility shut-offs, best access and evacuation routes, incident response plans, and containment and family reunification locations. Try stuffing all that in a binder.
On Sept. 22, 2003, a student pulled out a 9-millimeter handgun during science class at Lewis & Clark High School in Spokane, WA, shot at a cabinet, and demanded the teacher and students leave the room.
Fortunately, Rapid Responder was already in place. Within minutes of the shot, the software was up and running in a command center, providing site-specific information. Arriving officers were able to isolate the gunman in less than 12 minutes, while more than 2,000 students were quickly evacuated.
Using the system, officials noticed that the room in which the gunman was holed up had unobstructed views of a field where the students had been evacuated to—along with eight lanes of traffic on an adjacent freeway. Using contacts listed in the database, officials called a transportation vendor to immediately send buses to relocate the students off site. A list of predetermined roadblocks from Rapid Responder was sent to the Spokane Street Department to block adjacent streets, and to the Washington State Patrol to block access to the freeway.
During negotiations, the gunman asked for matches. Fire officials knew from Rapid Responder that the student was in a science lab with a number of natural-gas outlets. The program located the utility shut-offs, and a crew from the local gas company shut off the gas.
Fire officials, concerned about possible hazardous chemicals, also used the system to access a list of chemicals stored in the room. The database listed the chemical types, location, quantity, material safety data sheets (MSDS) profiling of chemical characteristics, and safety precautions.
The gunman acted aggressively toward the SWAT team and was wounded in the subsequent gunfire, but survived. The situation was defused in less than an hour, and no innocent people were hurt thanks to the planning measures taken and the quick access to crucial information.
"In addition to the active-shooter scenario, the program also comes in handy for everyday use," Pegram says, sharing an anecdote from two years ago in which students grabbed a fire-suppression pipe and broke it. "Hundreds of gallons of water began spilling out on a brand-new parquet hardwood floor in the gym. The head custodian was out and no one knew where the shut-offs were. I pulled up Rapid Responder and quickly accessed the fire-suppression shut-off. [Because of the] access to that information, the $150,000 gym floor was saved."
Emergency response enhancements are being introduced into school districts across the nation. Last January, Castleberry Independent School District in Texas installed the crisis management system in all of the district's school and administration facilities.
"Castleberry ISD has always prided itself on working closely with emergency personnel to protect our students and staff," says Superintendent Gary Jones. "The Rapid Responder system allows response agencies to develop crisis plans before an event occurs, thus saving time during an emergency."
In May, California's San Juan Unified School District participated in training sessions carried out by Prepared Response to prepare for and hopefully avert emergencies. The district installed Rapid Responder in 2005. The sessions included critical incident planning teams, biomedical emergency planning, and threat assessments.
In the Critical Incident Planning Teams training course, school personnel learned how to form campus safety teams and were taught tools for safety planning, including how to conduct in-depth safety assessments using the Rapid Responder school mapping system. In the Biomedical Emergency Planning session, training involved learning the history of pandemic influenza, including current biomedical threats and how the World Health Organization's alert system relates to the National Response Plan. Threat assessment workshops taught participants how to identify threats and develop threat assessment processes to prevent violence.
"The San Juan Unified School District already has robust security plans in place, and these training programs will further enhance the district's readiness in case of an emergency," said Ethan Hoff, the distict's coordinator for emergency training, in a press release.
The use of Rapid Responder continues to grow. Thanks to a $7 million award from the US Department of Education's Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools discretionary grant program and other government funding sources, the system will be installed in 1,000 schools in South Carolina, Texas, Arizona, Idaho, and Washington.
-Sherleen H. Mahoney is assistant editorof Security Products.
This article originally appeared in the 10/01/2007 issue of THE Journal.