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Fulton and Peoria first responders use new digital indoor maps for school emergencies

Kristin McHugh/WCBU

Fulton County first responders are using new indoor maps to give them a better overview of a school's layout before entering, making response times quicker in case there's an emergency.

The project is funded via a new Illinois State Police grant. Fulton County also is partnering with Peoria County to create maps for schools there.

WCBU reporter Camryn Cutinello sat down with Fulton County 911 coordinator Chris Helle to talk about the maps and how they can save lives.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

What is the purpose of the maps?

Chris Helle: The first thing a dispatcher asks when you call 911 is where's your emergency? Oftentimes, you see on TV, they're saying, well, what's your emergency? No, the first thing is finding out where you're at because that's how we know who to send. So, the partnership that we have with Peoria County, led by David Tuttle, has really built out tremendous benefits. And really great things have come from that. One of them is the indoor mapping. This is kind of something new in the state of Illinois. Fulton and Peoria were the first in the state to really engage in this and do this. We started this in Farmington, and then did all the schools in Fulton County.

What exactly do these maps show? And how are they used by first responders?

Helle: So the maps kind of give like a Google Maps-type of scenario where you see all of the rooms, how to enter the rooms, how to exit the rooms, doorways, locations of roof access, exterior doors, the labels on exterior doors. So, if a student calls 911, and says, 'Hey, I'm by door E-7,' we know where that's on the map. You know, in Fulton County, I can't speak for Peoria, because I don't know their system real well. But all of the ambulances, all of the police cars, and most of the fire apparatus have like iPads or computers. So they'll see on the map where the call is located.

How did these maps vary from what schools were using previously?

Helle: Some of our schools in Fulton County, they didn't have the resources to develop maps, they would have a sheet of paper that showed a square and then showed rooms inside of those squares. But the problem with that is the police cars, the fire trucks, the 911 dispatchers, the people making the decision of where to send people to and how to send them, they don't see that. This way now, they're all working on the exact same map. And they can see every single closet, room, they can see it in their cars. They can see it in their apparatus when they get a text from the 911 system in Fulton County, it will route them literally to the room.

How are the maps created?

Helle: So, we go in with LIDAR guns; it looks like a giant hairdryer. And just scan the room. It maps out where doors are at where windows are at. It scales it so that you're within a 16th of an inch. And then it creates a digital floor plan that you can then integrate into CAD (Computer-Aided Dispatch) and then label every single room and shows where the calls are at, who the caller is. And we can label things like roof access, and doorways and everything else. That way, we give them the whole 360 degree assessment of the school

With the conversation around school safety, can you talk about just how big of an issue it is right now?

Helle: You know, it's at the forefront, a school sadly as a soft target. So, the more we can do to help schools day to day or in an absolute tragic incident, the more we can do to help when the tragedy occurs. It's sadly it's not an if, it's more of a when. So, the more we can be prepared to have every single incoming resource familiar with, or give them the tools to be familiar with the schools. And then engage the schools as part of this in Fulton County. We've taken these maps and gone to the schools and said okay, here's the map. Let's talk about your safety plans. Where are we going in the event of a fire? Where are we going in the event of an active shooter, [a] tornado, and we've engaged every single school and gone to them and said, 'Okay, well, we've labeled all this on the map. That's great. But let's look at your classrooms.' We'll walk through every single classroom and we'll label the actual classrooms so that way if someone calls 911, they know what room they're in.

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Camryn Cutinello is a reporter at WCBU. You can reach Camryn at cncutin@ilstu.edu.