Emergency plans updated for individual Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- No two emergencies, schools or even students are the same. So, when the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools system saw a need to revamp their emergency plans for each individual school, they knew they were taking on a complicated task.

“Anything from a large fight on campus, to a fire, bomb threat, or, in a worst case scenario an active shooter,” said Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Security Director Jonathan Wilson.

The process began in 2013 and the school system immediately realized they needed to incorporate technology to get ahead. To do so, they brought on MapForsyth, where experts work in partnership with municipalities within Forsyth County to provide geographic information system (GIS) data.

“We looked at things like terrain, how’s the school laid out? Where’s the best place to take kids and staff in the event of an emergency,” Wilson said.

First, they handed paper maps to the principals of all the schools in the school system to see what each school already had in place.

“Gave them all paper maps and said, ‘OK, you’re gonna draw on this map where the people are gonna be picked up, where a helicopter might need to go and those kind of things,'” said Dr. Joseph Sloop, MapForsyth geographic information officer.

They then gathered more data, which was put into their GIS computer mapping system.

“Once we’ve got it into the computer it truly is limitless,” Sloop said.

From there, they were able to create individualized plans for each of the schools; including things like staging, evacuation and pickup locations, with the help of local law enforcement agencies.

“Whether it’s a police officer, whether it’s a fire department, whether it’s an EMS, can pull this up on the computer in their vehicle,” allowing them to look at the school from above before they get boots on the ground. “But also pull up what the floor plan looks like, where the utilities are so they can cut certain things off.”

The plans are so meticulous, they are even tailored to the individual students, especially those with special needs.

“We can’t just pull up a big yellow bus, it has to be a bus that’s equipped to deal with their needs,” Wilson said.

When it comes to current plans, in relation to those from a mere three years ago, Wilson said, “I don’t think there’s really any way to even compare the two, because you had a piece of paper sitting in a binder on the shelf in the past.”

Wilson added that the current system is “just the beginning as to where we go from here, but it’s also just the beginning as this is our skeleton, this is our framework.”

In the future, they plan to incorporate drone footage to compile a 3D look at each school, similar to what buildings look like in video games.

“We’re looking at bringing in live traffic, live weather,” Sloop said.

Although it was a lot of work, they hope all the plans will have been done for nothing, for that would mean they don’t have to implement them. In addition, those projects were done with zero cost. The employees who worked on it did so under their preexisting salaries and the software used had already been purchased.