BANGOR, Maine — Three years and $250,000 in federal appropriations money later, a unique cooperative effort involving schools and law enforcement agencies in three counties has produced an unprecedented amount of data to better respond to school emergencies.
A laborious process lasting nearly three years and involving police agency personnel culling school disaster plans in Penobscot, Kennebec and Oxford counties has resulted in a database from which police can quickly access key information such as floor plans and blueprints for schools during emergencies like fires, floods, or even hostage situations with an armed suspect or suspects.
“It was a tremendous partnership between police, schools and other law enforcement agencies. And it was done before the Sandy Hook shootings,” said Glenn Ross, Penobscot County Sheriff. “This made us feel like we were out ahead on this issue.”
The appropriations money came after Ross wrote up a proposal after being contacted by Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, and asked if he had any projects in mind that would fit the guidelines for this particular federal funding package.
“Most of the information was hand-gathered after schools’ emergency plans were combed through to remove only the most pertinent and helpful information for potential law enforcement responders.
“You don’t want to wade through a big, thick manual, so we picked out things that we knew would be more helpful for us early on when time is critical, such as the layout of the structures in terms of blueprints,” Ross said.
Ross said all 118 public schools in Penobscot County participated and provided at least blueprints or floor plans.
The database has been incorporated in with already existing information in the Spillman information computer system used by Penobscot Regional Communications Center, Bangor police and other law enforcement agencies.
“It employs a search engine that’s very forgiving, so you don’t have to enter the exact name of a school to get the information,” Ross explained. “You can type in ‘Bangor school’ or the name of the street and you can narrow it down from there.”
The school data will also include contact information for all school personnel, including administrators, teachers and even custodians. All agencies, including the Maine Warden Service and Maine State Police, will have access.
“Mike Michaud wants to take this plan to Washington, D.C., and present it because he hopes it becomes a national model,” Ross said. “There’s nothing more rewarding than that because in the end, it’s all about keeping children safe. This is just one piece. The downside is this is unnecessary until something bad happens, but it does let people know we’re prepared.”
The money also funded the purchase of new equipment such as ballistic vests and surveillance cameras for Special Response Teams in both Penobscot and Kennebec counties as well as training exercises in actual schools.