By Senator Lena C. Taylor
The “Breaking News” alert started beeping on my cell phone. Simultaneously, I heard that signature sound from my television signaling that something was wrong. I remembered thinking “what now,” as I looked up to see the anchor on CNN news. With a look of dismay, a young reporter broke the news that there was an active shooter situation playing out in Arlington, Texas. As the sprawling Timberview High School campus flashed on my screen, I realized that this was another school shooting. Instantly, I thought of a recent senate session and Wisconsin Senate Bill 449. This proposal, that I co-sponsored, awards grants to schools to provide critical incident mapping data to law enforcement agencies.
With each new school year, we worry about a critical incident or shooting. While school violence dates back to the 1700’s, the progression of dangerous occurrences, in the halls of K-12 institutions have heightened our fears and responses. In 2019, there were 25 firearm-related incidents at schools that caused injuries or deaths. In just the first two months of 2021, there have been 21 similar occurrences. Given the increase in overall violence since the COVID-19 outbreak, these numbers are not surprising. However, it doesn’t make it any less alarming.
Each year we ask the same questions. How do we stop these situations? How do we minimize the harm or loss of life, when these school incidents occur? In pursuit of an answer or solutions, school districts are trying a variety of strategies. There has been a “hardening” of schools that include steel and bullet proof classroom doors and automatic locks.
Panic buttons have been placed in classrooms. Teachers and administrators have been allowed to possess guns on school property. While, I am not a fan of armed teachers in classrooms, some of my colleagues likely approve. Frequently, political parties disagree on how far we should go, or the tactics we should employ to improve school safety.
However, we all agree that more needs to be done. SB 449 received overwhelming bi-partisan support.
The premise of the bill is fairly simple. When a critical incident occurs on a school property, law enforcement and first-responders often ask for the blueprints of the school. Those drawings are used to help officers better understand the layout of each building and the campus. However, what we have learned is that frequently, blueprints can be outdated. As schools have expanded and technology updates have been required, school buildings and campuses have seen renovations, design changes and new construction to existing layouts. As a result, officers could be making decisions based on outdated information.
Originally built in 2004, Timberview H.S. was built on 75 acres and is a 416,000 square foot facility. On a campus of this size, inaccurate information could cost lost time and lives. Four people sustained non-fatal injuries, but we know that it could have been worse.
Newer mapping systems provide information to first responders, including tactical pre-plans, satellite and geospatial imagery, interior and exterior photos, floor plans, staging areas, hazardous materials, utility shut-offs and evacuation routes. In typical situations, law enforcement and fire departments would have better information to help them better respond to emergencies at schools.
Equally important, the bill provides a mechanism to assist in funding of this mapping. There have been state legislatures, around the country, which have passed similar proposals since 2007. Unfortunately, some schools in those states received the new mapping systems due to funding problems for their local districts. SB 449 seeks to address that issue.
Most important, the bill is another layer in our continued fight to keep our children safe.