DEMA updating school campus maps to improve emergency response


DELAWARE – Within the next several months, all 278 of Delaware’s public and charter schools will get a major upgrade to their campus maps. The updated, digital maps are being created between the Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA) and New Jersey-based firm Critical Response Group (CRG).

Updating and Upgrading

“While looking at all 237 of our public and charter schools, a lot of the floor plans and mapping and aerial views of the schools were very out of date,” said Douglas Scheer, Comprehensive School Safety Program Planner for DEMA. “A lot of our dispatch agencies, 911 responders, state, local, and county agencies did not have access to the maps. So, how were they ever going to respond if they didn’t know what the school looked like?”

When first responders need to rush onto a school campus to save lives, timing is everything. Minutes, and even seconds, can prove crucial in stopping a threat on campus. Scheer says having an exact map of the scene can make the difference between life and death.

“A lot of times they’re not familiar with the school and its layout. So, we decided the best way to do this would be to remap everything,” said Scheer. “It’s just going to help protect our students, staff, and visitors in the even that there is a manmade or natural disaster.”

Pinpointing Response

The updated digital maps will help first responders know exactly which areas of campus they need to rush to, says Scheer.

“Essentially, they’re in a gridded pattern. So, if I gave anybody that map or floor plan, if I said ‘I need somebody to go to C5,’ everybody would know where C5 is,” said Scheer. “It identifies the hallways, it identifies room numbers, it lays everything out in a clear format, and it’s visible on all electronic formats.”

Scheer says the process of putting the maps together is exhaustive, because it needs to be to ensure the highest level of emergency response. School campus maps are sent to CRG for review. CRG will then send their version of the map back to the school districts to ensure everything is accurate.

Then, representatives from CRG will visit the schools, and complete a walkthrough with the administration. Critical infrastructure will be plotted next. Then, the updated maps are sent to police and fire dispatch centers before they are finalized.

“For safety reasons, we would not release anything to the public. We don’t want anyone out there with ill intent to understand the layout of a school and cause harm,” said Scheer.

Peace of Mind

Dr. Vicilia Cade, Superintendent of Capital School District, says knowing these updated maps are on the way brings her immense peace of mind.

“I think it’s a critical part of our preparation in preparing for future crisis. I think that having all of our emergency people on the same page, having access to pertinent information, it makes the difference in the amount of time that they have to get to someone and save a life,”  said Dr. Cade. “This is a part of our preparedness. We’re preparing for those crises where we have everybody coming together to have these critical conversations, that will make the difference in saving lives.”

But, it’s not just violence on school campuses that warrants the need for the updated maps, says Scheer. They could also be used when schools are being used as shelters in natural disasters, like hurricanes.

“In our sheltering programs, we use a lot of the schools in the event that there’s a hurricane or something of that nature. So we’re going to take that and marry it into our sheltering program,” said Scheer.

Looking Ahead

Back in Dover, Dr. Cade says Capital School District has also had ongoing conversations with law enforcement and DEMA to also talk about disaster recovery. She adds that recent funding from the state will help improve school safety and security personnel and equipment.

“I think the fact that DEMA is providing us with these digitized maps only adds and extra layer of support to the preparation that we’ve already been engaged in,” said Dr. Cade. “Times are changing, right? So, just like we see changes taking place in k-12 education, we see the same as it pertains to emergency response.”

Categories: Delaware, Education, Local News