Software developed in part because of the Columbine High School shootings to allow emergency personnel to take a virtual survey of a building’s layout will be tested across the West this spring.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Jan. 18 it will lead testing to fine-tune the planning software developed by Littleton, Colo., Fire Department Capt. Jim Olsen in the summer of 1999.

“Columbine brought out some serious deficiencies with the paper pre-plans. They were hard to update and in bulky binders on the trucks. Now, fire trucks can hold five or six different plans on one CD,” Olsen said.

Olsen’s fire truck was the first one at the scene of the Columbine tragedy.

Gunmen Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris fatally shot 12 students and a teacher and wounded 23 others in the April 20, 1999, attack, the nation’s deadliest school shooting. The gunmen then killed themselves in the school library.

Police and firefighters have said uncertainty about the building’s layout added to the confusion when they got to the school. Since then, some Denver area law enforcement agencies have acquired detailed floor plans and utilities diagrams for schools.

Olsen said his invention, called the “pre-incident planning system software,” will be more helpful than conventional diagrams.

When the template is filled out with building information, firefighters and paramedics can take a virtual walkthrough of a facility, complete with 360-degree panoramic views, by using the CD-ROM. Interactive floor plans allow them to click on a part of the building and see the actual hallway or room.

The CD-ROM also includes contact information, school hours, number of students, and locations of hydrants and electrical, water, and gas switches.

Olsen said the software is confidential and won’t be on the internet. Only law enforcement agencies, local school districts, and building managers will have access to the plans.

The Littleton Fire Department already has three fire trucks equipped with software for 29 area schools and businesses.

Olsen said he has been doing demonstrations of the software for several months. FEMA saw a demonstration and decided to take on the project as part of its Partners Assuring Safer Schools program.

Although Columbine underscored the need for the system, Olsen said he believes it would have eventually been developed anyway.

El Paso County and six other communities in five states will receive the blank template and must fill it out by shooting pictures of the building with a digital camera, Olsen said. He estimated it will take 10 to 12 hours to create a walkthrough for an elementary school and 20 hours for a high school.

The communities will test the software for about three months. After the testing is complete, the software will be released nationwide.

“This is great for training. For example, someone would be able to preview safety plans for the next Olympics. It’s a long-range, long-term system,” Olsen said.

The other communities participating are Bozeman, Mont.; Sparks, Nev., Corvallis, Ore.; Sioux Falls, S.D., Watertown S.D; and Casper and Natrona County, Wyo.


Federal Emergency Management Agency Region VIII
Denver Federal Center
Building 710
Denver, CO 80255-0267
phone (303) 235-4812
fax (303) 235-4976

Partners Assuring Safer Schools program: