County thinks ahead to protect schools

Virtual Image Crisis Map information

Louisiana's Lafourche Parish Sheriff's Office is working with the state's departments of Justice and Education to fit schools with technology that state officials hope will help during emergencies.

The idea for making interactive digital maps of the state's schools came from the sheriff's office. Such maps would give emergency personnel images of the interior and exterior of school sites so that in times of crisis, the officers would be able to familiarize themselves with a school's layout.

Lt. Gerry Monier of the sheriff's office said the idea for the Virtual Image Crisis Map, or VIC-Map, stemmed from a meeting about crisis management plans for Lafourche Parish schools.

"We realized that they didn't have a whole lot of input from law enforcement, at least from a tactical officer's point of view," Monier said. "We have 32 schools in our parish, and while a officer might have been in three or four of them, it was highly unlikely that they had been on all 32."

Someone from the sheriff's office took digital photos of school grounds, covering areas such as rooms, exits and entrances. The photos were then stored on a CD and downloaded onto local law enforcement computers, allowing a SWAT team commander, for example, to access a virtual, panoramic floor plan of the school. He or she could then guide fellow team members, taking into account such details as turns, barriers, and doors.

Since creating the project last summer, the sheriff's office has mapped four out of the 30 schools in Lafourche Parish. "It's a very lengthy process," Monier said. "You have to go through the blueprints and verify that everything is correct. You have to go through each school and get photos and information on every doorway, every closet, every gas main, everything. It's actually really exhaustive."

The sheriff's office sold Sandra Ezell, the safe schools coordinator for the Louisiana Department of Justice, on the concept when Ezell was in Lafourche last summer discussing crisis management for the school district.

"When we looked at what happened in Columbine, we found that SWAT teams were told that the perpetrator was in the library, but they didn't know where the library was," Ezell said.

Columbine is the Colorado high school where on April 20, 1999, two students shot and killed 12 classmates, one teacher and wounded more than 20 others before killing themselves.

The map program has become a component of the state's recent requirement that all schools have a crisis management plan. Ezell said that the maps should result in reduced insurance premiums for school districts.

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