School Emergency Management - Digital Floor Plans

Critical Information Needed for First Responders


Richard J. Daddio, President Expertise Consulting, Inc.


In todays turbulent environment, providing for the safety of students, staff, and community is more complex than ever.  On a daily basis school districts may face a range of emergencies ranging from medical to intruders that must be mitigated quickly and effectively.  This requires schools to prepare, plan, and practice emergency drills and procedures.  When the incident involves first responders, the most critical information needed is accurate floor plans.  In responding to emergencies first responders must be able to navigate the building quickly and accurate floor plans provide that vehicle.


According to Dennis Amodio, retired FDNY Rescue 1, the single most critical purpose for accurate floor plans is building navigation providing a map indicating the location of floors, rooms, hallways, stairwells, elevators, and entrances.  Unfortunately, most school buildings have had renovations designed by different architects and completed by various vendors which leads to multiple floor plans.  Furthermore, districts often need to create new instructional space by re-arranging existing rooms by erecting new interior walls which are not indicated on existing floor plans.  This leads to inaccurate floor plans.


Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), National Incident Management System (MIMS), Presidential Policy Directive (PPD) 8, as well as state emergency agencies such as New Yorks Safe Schools stress the importance of proper preparation including accurate floor plans.  In order to be properly prepared for any emergency, school districts must verify their existing building floor plans. 


Verification of existing floor plans begins with the coalition of current available floor plans into a single document.  Upon completion, a physical walk through of the building is done comparing the collated floor plan with the actual building layout which includes verifying room numbers, identifying stairwells, elevators, entrances, and exits.  In addition to verifying existing floor plans, the walk through is the proper time to identify the location of gas, water, electrical, and other critical assets leading to a single accurate building floor plan that can be shared with first responders. FEMA and state emergency agencies also recommend the inclusion of surrounding areas such as streets and access roadways so that the Incident Command System (ICS) has total access to all needed information.


Although paper floor plans including identification of surrounding areas have been the standard for emergency management, these documents are static and over time may not accurately reflect the current building floor plan.  With the advent of software as a service (SaaS) these paper plans can be converted into interactive digital floor plans that can be displayed on multiple platforms.


Interactive digital floor plans ensure that first responders and the school district are sharing the same accurate information.  Changes to a building whether it be new construction or the re-design of existing classrooms can be done quickly so that floor plans are always accurate.  A further advantage of interactive digital floor plans is the inclusion of additional information such as photographs, actual emergency procedures/plans, evacuation routes, contact lists, hazardous material and toxic substance inventories, and material safety data sheets.  In addition because the floor plans are digital, any IP addressable device such as door access hardware, entrance man traps, and video surveillance cameras can be incorporated and controlled through interactive digital floor plans.  Adding this level of digital integration enhances command and control as well as greater situational awareness which in turn leads to a faster and more effective response.  Each situation requires a different protocol because the response protocol for a medical emergency is very different than that of an active shooter. Accurate interactive digital floor plans provide the flexibility to tailor the response to the incident.


The creation of integrated digital floor plans begins with the conversion of verified floor plans into a browser based application that contains the critical information for the district and first responders.  There are several products on the market that can generate digital floor plans that include links to documents, pictures, and video feeds with authentication levels added to ensure only those authorized will have access to the floor plans.  In addition, security levels can be created to allow certain individuals the ability to add, modify, or delete information ensuring the digital floor plans are accurate. 


Finally, a well developed interactive digital floor plan can control any IP addressable device.  This can include environmental systems, door access systems, video surveillance systems, as well as any other IP addressable device.  The importance of controlling these devices results in a faster situational response thereby reducing the impact of the event.  For example, in the event of a lock down or lock out emergency procedure the ability to secure all interior and exterior doors with a single click of a mouse is invaluable.  Not only does it ensure all doors are closed and locked according to the prescribed protocol, it can also produce text or email messages to the appropriate first responders providing an accurate status report enhancing the situational awareness leading to a more effective command and control.  Environmental interfaces provide the ability to control heating and ventilation systems, lighting resources, and communication devices such as telephones and intercoms.  An entire building can be controlled through a single user interface utilizing digital floor plans thus providing the ICS (Incident Command System) management hierarchy real time data for managing temporary incidents of any size


For more information on how your institution can develop an integrated digital floor plan please contact Expertise Consulting, Inc.