A statewide school security initiative will receive a $6.5 million investment in American Rescue Plan funds to collect and digitize school building blueprints and make them available to first responders, Gov. Phil Murphy announced at an Aug. 30 news conference at East Brook Middle School in Paramus.
New Jersey first responders currently have access to collaborative response graphics for approximately 1,500 of the state’s 3,000 public and nonpublic schools. The graphics provide accurate and uniform maps critical to enable law enforcement personnel to swiftly respond to emergencies in unfamiliar environments. The new initiative will help map the remaining 1,500 schools in an effort to further safeguard New Jersey students and educators.
The investment will enable the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness and the New Jersey State Police to contract with an outside vendor to assist with mapping. According to the governor, mapping will include “site-specific interior labeling to ensure proper and swift identification of individual rooms, hallways, stairwells, potential hazards …the locations of key utilities, and…clear labeling of external doors, parking areas, athletic fields, and surrounding roads and neighboring properties.” Once the schematics for every school building are collected, local law enforcement personnel will conduct annual walkthroughs of each building to ensure the mapping data is accurate and up to date.
Murphy hopes that mapping will be completed for the remaining 1,500 schools by the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year. He made it clear that the initiative will include, in addition to traditional district schools, charter schools, renaissance schools, and nonpublic schools.
“With the epidemic of gun violence reaching every part of our communities, including our schools, we offer our families not empty promises, but concrete investments in tools and resources that will keep our students safe,” Murphy said. “Nothing is more important than the safety of our children and the educators who help our children achieve their full potential. In order to protect our children and educators, we must equip our first responders with the most up-to-date 21st-century technology so that they can respond to emergencies without unnecessary delay.”
It is worthwhile to note that the initiative appears aligned, at least in part, to the program envisioned by pending legislation S-2426/A-3835, which would amend existing law that requires districts to share “blueprints and maps” with local law enforcement to instead share the following: aerial images of schools; floor plans, including room and suite numbers; building access points; and locations of hazardous materials and utility shutoffs.
The legislation would require that the above information shared by districts be compatible with all platforms and applications used by law enforcement, be verified for accuracy through an annual walkthrough of school buildings and school grounds and be provided in a printable format. As noted in a previous School Board Notes article, the NJSBA supported that legislation in concept but sought to ensure a funding source. The NJSBA applauds the governor’s investment of ARP funds to support the mapping initiative.
Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan, acting commissioner of education, said the mapping initiative is “an innovative action in school security.” She added, “Every minute counts during a school emergency and making digital blueprints and maps available will assist law enforcement throughout the state in timely response, and campus navigation. We remain committed to using all resources, so our students and educators maintain safe learning environments.”
Rep. Josh Gottheimer said the technology will enable law enforcement to act quickly and decisively in the event of a crisis. “And this investment was made possible by the federal American Rescue Plan that Congress passed last year,” he said. “It’s hard to think of a better use of these federal resources than to ensure we’re protecting our schools, educators and children by giving our law enforcement the resources they need to keep them safe.”
Sen. Joseph Lagana said that with the increase in school shootings across the country, it’s critical to do everything possible to provide law enforcement and first responders with every available tool that could help save lives. “Access to digital floor plans will better prepare local law enforcement and first responders in the case of any emergency situation,” he said.
Numerous other state officials joined the governor at the news conference in Paramus and applauded the initiative in the governor’s news release.
The governor also framed the mapping initiative as complementing his recent signature of legislation requiring public schools to develop threat assessment teams by the start of the 2023-2024 school year. “I think of this as a hard asset companion to a law that I signed on Aug. 1 of this year, which was to require each school district to come up with so-called threat assessment teams,” he said. The mapping initiative “is to harden the hard assets of our school environment, and hopefully taken together, that is a powerful companionship that will bear fruit in the years to come.”
When it comes to school security, you can never pat yourself on the back, Murphy said. “We all have to recognize the sobering reality that we wake up every day having to bat 1,000 just like we did the day before,” he said.
NJSBA continues to focus on helping school boards bolster security and safety. View a host of resources on our School Safety Resources page.