Chris Wilmoth, of Louisiana’s Lafourche Parish School Board’s Pupil Appraisal Center, saw a common theme at the recent school shootings that have plagued the country: law enforcement personnel on the outside of a school, unable, for their own safety and the safety of students and others inside, to enter during a crisis situation because they were unfamiliar with the layout of a school. In these incidences, Wilmoth realized, what was needed was a map of the premises.

Currently, police can go to public records and find plans of schools, but those are often outdated, it takes time to track them down, and they don’t show important aspects of the school’s interior.

Wilmoth understood that schools and law enforcement agencies needed to use the latest technology to make maps easily accessible to police and school officials. He came up with a virtual image crisis map, or VIC-Map. These maps are made by school officials, burned on CDs, and distributed to law enforcement and other emergency response teams.

“Police usually have laptops in their cars. The map can be pulled right up” on the spot, Wilmoth says.

What’s interesting is the level of detail the CDs can give law enforcement officials in case of an emergency. The VIC-Map contains information such as:

  • What the walls are made of. Composition of walls is important–sheetrock is different from drywall.
  • What the windows are made of. Depending on the composition of windows–Plexiglas or glass–law enforcement officers would take a different approach.
  • The actual layout of rooms, including where furniture is located.
  • Where the alarm systems are and where alarm pads are located.
  • A Global Positioning System address, useful for helicopters to find exact locations of school buildings. Currently, Wilmoth says, police officers have to stand outside and help direct helicopters to the correct site.

The VIC-Map is an HTML file with multiple layers of images. The first layer is the actual map of the school. Additional layers provide detail, such as placement of fire extinguishers, windows, alarm systems, emergency lights, main electrical systems, and secondary walls.

“We found what sort of system would need the least amount of training for the people creating it, the simplest technology, and the least amount of equipment that would create a tool that would serve this need,” Wilmoth says.

Perhaps the best aspect of the VIC-Map is that any school can make one. The web site for the Lafourche Parish’s Pupil Appraisal Center (see address below) lays out how they are created.

“The whole point is you don’t have to buy any software; any school system can create a VIC-Map on its own,” Wilmoth says. “The idea is to enable poor schools to have the same physical crisis intervention programs that rich schools have, to yield the same outcome without a lot of financial output.”

Wilmoth likes to point out that the total cost of creating a VIC-Map is 94 cents–the cost of a blank CD.

What you’ll need to create a VIC-Map

  • Microsoft Internet Explorer (benefit: common to most offices);
  • Microsoft Photo Editor or Photodraw (benefit: easy to use and scalable);
  • Microsoft Front Page (benefit: simplifies HTML process);
  • A computer with CD/R capabilities;
  • A digital camera; and
  • At least one person who is knowledgeable in web page design and image editing.

A scanner and/or AutoCAD design software may be useful additional resources.

“All a school needs is a CD burner–which most schools have–a computer with Microsoft software, a scanner, and a digital camera,” Wilmoth says. Of course, in addition, the school must have personnel that can put in the additional time to create the CD.

“Once we created a map, we tested it out with law enforcement. They tried it and were able to clear the building in a fraction of the time it used to take,” Wilmoth says. “Our map is annotated with pictures, so you can point and click at any room and see the actual furniture and the layout of the room.”

There are 30 schools in the Lafourche Parish district; all are currently working on VIC-Maps. “We started this year with high schools. Then the high schools were renovated and changed, so those maps need to be changed,” Wilmoth says.

High schools will be mapped first, followed by junior high schools, middle schools, and then elementary schools.

Of course, maps alone can’t replace a comprehensive school safety plan. Wilmoth says a VIC-Map should be part of a comprehensive plan that includes:

  • A crisis or safety manual;
  • Yearly staff training;
  • Mental health services;
  • Consistent (and supported) discipline policies;
  • Violence prevention measures;
  • Personal self-defense classes; and
  • Collaborative training with law enforcement and other state or local agencies.

The mapping program has had many secondary gains. First, it has fostered greater security awareness–the development process has been good training for local school officials. Secopnd, it has provided an excellent opportunity to network with local crisis responders.

“Schools and crisis responders work more efficiently when a common language is spoken and roles are well-defined,” Wilmoth says.

There are also financial benefits to the VIC-Map program, Wilmoth says. Besides being cost-efficient to produce, the maps may lead to reduced insurance premiums if they are part of an overall plan of crisis preparation. Recaptured revenue then can support other crisis preparation activities.

The National Institute for Crime Prevention has shown interest in using the program as a model. “Rural school districts have problems getting quality models for school safety,” Wilmoth says.

A full overview of the Lafourche VIC-Mapping project can be seen at http://pac.lafourche.k12.la.us/prev_serv.html. This includes a sample map and details on how other schools can create their own VIC-Maps.