The new maps are intended to help police officers and emergency responders navigate schools in case of a school shooting or other emergency. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
New Jersey will spend $6.5 million in federal funds to digitize the blueprints of about 1,500 school buildings, a measure Gov. Phil Murphy said Tuesday will help police better respond to active shooters and other emergencies in schools.
New Jersey first began electronically mapping the state’s 3,100 school buildings in 2019 but has only gotten half of them done, Murphy said during the midday announcement at East Brook Middle School in Paramus. American Rescue Plan money will fund the rest in time for the 2023-24 school year, he said.
“As we enter this new school year, this is a gap we cannot allow to continue,” Murphy said. “We can’t just hope that a police officer or firefighter or an emergency medical professional rushing into a school knows where they’re going.”
Schools and law enforcement also will be required to do annual walk-throughs of all school buildings to ensure the accuracy of the maps, he added.
Officials use a military-developed tool called collaborative response graphics to convert building blueprints to electronic maps that work across computer systems, Murphy said. The maps show rooms, hallways, entries, exits, parking lots, surrounding roads, and more, he added.
Laurie Doran, director of the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, said law enforcement used the technology when responding to a December 2019 domestic terrorism incident in Jersey City, where two gunmen went on an anti-Semitic killing spree at a kosher deli.
Murphy described the maps as a “companion” to a law he signed earlier this month that requires school districts to create threat assessment teams to stop mass shootings before they happen.
Sen. Joseph Lagana (D-Bergen) applauded the investment. Lagana introduced legislation in May that would require schools to give law enforcement building blueprints to improve emergency response. That bill has bipartisan support and has moved through committees in the Assembly and Senate — but hasn’t reached a full vote.
“We are being proactive. We’re not being reactive,” Lagana said. “When it comes to school security, each and every day, we have to think of ways to make our schools safer. We don’t want them to look like courthouses, but there does need to be a certain level of security in our schools.”
U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer also was on hand in Paramus to commend the funding.
“It’s a clear danger, and we saw that with the tragedy in Texas — every second in these situations counts. Literally every second,” Gottheimer said.
So far this year, there have been 113 incidents of gunfire on school grounds, killing 41 people and injuring 82, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.
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