Importance of Sharing School Floor Plans with Emergency Responders

Columbine High School
Jefferson County, CO

Summary: School district officials should assemble emergency kits containing up-to-date maps, floor plans, and important information for use during critical incidents. These kits can assist emergency responders in managing incidents at schools with which they are unfamiliar.

Description: On April 20, 1999, two students at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colorado began an armed assault that resulted in 15 deaths and 24 injuries. The incident lasted for approximately 47 minutes during which the two heavily armed seniors fired on their teachers and fellow students, scattered homemade explosives around the school, and exchanged gunfire with law enforcement personnel before committing suicide. More than 1,000 law enforcement, medical, and fire personnel from several jurisdictions responded to the incident.

Emergency responders did not have up-to-date information on the school’s layout because the building had recently undergone major renovations. Law enforcement personnel had to rely on imprecise sketches drawn by local police officers. In addition, law enforcement and fire personnel did not know how to deactivate the school’s fire alarm and sprinkler systems. Consequently, the Special Weapons and Tactics teams that entered the school were confronted by flashing lights, deafening noise, and three inches of water. These problems hindered efforts by law enforcement personnel to secure the building and prolonged the time required for paramedics to reach victims trapped inside the school.

The Columbine Review Commission recommended that local school administrators assemble several emergency kits, corresponding to the size of the school, for use during critical incidents. The emergency kits should contain up-to-date information, including school diagrams with exit routes clearly indicated; information about deactivating alarms, sprinklers, and utilities in the building; important telephone numbers; and a current school roster. These kits provide emergency responders with immediate access to information that can assist them in managing critical incidents that occur in unfamiliar schools.

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