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Back to Archives | Back to January 2008 Contents 

First U.S. Statewide Crisis Management System Already Saving Lives

By Don Pierce, Executive Director, Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, Lacey, Washington

Figure 1. Joe Madsen
Figure 1. Former school safety director Joe Madsen points to where the gunman was at Lewis and Clark High School. Photo courtesy of Prepared Response, Inc.

n the morning of September 11, 2001, New Yorkers watched a blazing sunrise illuminate the twin towers of the World Trade Center, which represented the heart of U.S. commerce. In less than two hours, a normal day in New York City turned to utter chaos as first responders rushed to the scene and plunged into the burning structures to rescue office workers—a choice that cost many police officers and firefighters their lives.

The events of 9/11 and more recent tragedies such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Virginia Tech shootings in April of last year indicate a clear need to improve how law enforcement agencies approach emergency planning, including preplanning, collaborating with other agencies and facility managers, and using new technologies to improve response and mitigation efforts.

For the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC), the impetus for change began with an earlier tragedy: the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, where 12 students and one teacher were killed. Seeking to learn how local agencies would respond to such an incident in their own jurisdictions, a team of law enforcement professionals visited Colorado and analyzed the incident. As a result, they realized the importance of what we call the three Cs of emergency response: collaboration, coordination, and communication. WASPC, working closely with technology provider Prepared Response, Inc. (PRI), began developing a statewide crisis management system that emphasized preplanning, collaboration between first responders and facility managers, quick access to venue information, and improved coordination among responding agencies.

The statewide system, called the Washington State Critical Incident Planning and Mapping System (CIPMS), encourages local first responders to work together with facility managers to develop preplans for a wide variety of emergency incidents. The CIPMS then aggregates these preplans with venue data such as floor plans, photos, and hazmat lists and places them in a central, highly secure digital database. Police, fire, and other agencies can quickly access these data in real time via laptop computers, USB storage devices, and an Internet connection. With instant access to key information, police and fire departments can now respond more quickly, in a more coordinated manner, and with enhanced situational awareness.

To take the system from the concept stage to reality, WASPC secured funding from the state legislature for a 60-school pilot project. WASPC based its program on PRI’s highly successful Rapid Responder crisis management system. Buoyed by the success of the pilot, WASPC expanded the system to additional schools in the state and to a growing list of critical infrastructure, including courthouses, public buildings, hotels, and transportation corridors.

A Proven System That Saves Lives

Washington’s statewide CIPMS was put to the test just two weeks after it was installed at a Spokane high school. During the lunch hour at Lewis and Clark High School, a student walked into a third-floor science room, confronted the teacher and several students, and fired a round from a 9mm handgun into a nearby cabinet. As school officials dialed 9-1-1, a district resource officer (DRO) at another school heard the radio call and immediately accessed the CIPMS/Rapid Responder program on his laptop computer.

As the principal and an on-scene DRO raced to the third floor, the first DRO relayed crucial information about the school’s layout and the gunman’s location to police dispatch, who then informed officers en route to the scene.

As police arrived, more than 2,000 students were already being safely evacuated to a predesignated area as outlined by the Rapid Responder system. Through photos stored in the computer database, police in the command post determined that the shooter had a clear line of fire at this location. A click of a mouse and a phone call later, 20 buses arrived and took students to an alternative location within a matter of minutes.

“In 12 minutes we responded, contained the shooter, and evacuated the school. I was in the command post, and I couldn’t believe it,” said Roger Bragdon, Spokane’s then chief of police (now retired). “Every question we had and every contingency we had to plan for was answered by the Rapid Responder system.”1

Using Rapid Responder, police also determined that the shooter had a clear line of sight to Interstate 90, a nearby eight-lane freeway. Officials forwarded a list of predetermined roadblocks to the Streets Department to cordon off the school, as well as a list to the State Patrol to block access to Interstate 90. Not one second was wasted in implementation because everything had been predetermined and posted in the CIPMS.

Once the special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team arrived, they took over from the active-shooter team and positioned themselves outside of room 307, where the gunman was barricaded. Concern arose when the gunman appeared in multiple doorways, but the CIPMS revealed that the two rooms were connected by an internal doorway. Once an opportunity arose, the SWAT team blocked off one of the doors to isolate the gunman to only one room.

When the student requested matches from the SWAT negotiator, fire officials saw that room 307 had several natural gas outlets. Officials at the command post were able to quickly call the local gas company via the emergency contact list in Rapid Responder. Although the residential gas crew had little experience dealing with commercial gas valves, photos in Rapid Responder showed them the location of the gas shutoff.

With all students safely evacuated, all roadblocks in place, and the gunman isolated to one room, the shooter’s options were reduced to surrendering or fighting. Unfortunately, the gunman chose to provoke the SWAT team, which returned fire in self-defense and injured the gunman. Just as quickly as it had started, the crisis was over because of the preplanning efforts and system set in place by the CIPMS.

“By preplanning for this type of event and using the Rapid Responder program during the actual incident, we were able to contain the shooter within 12 minutes, quickly block off all access to the school and the freeway, and safely evacuate more than 2,000 students within 20 minutes,” said school safety director Joe Madsen (see figure 1). “More importantly, with the students offsite during the actual shooting, they were spared the psychological trauma of having to hear or see a fellow student being subdued by police.”2

As a result of the swift response, the damage to the school was repaired and classes opened the very next morning. Psychologists were on hand to counsel the students, but for the most part, the school was able to regain a semblance of normality within a short time.

How the CIPMS Works

Chief Bragdon best summed up the need for such a system: “During an emergency, there’s a hundred things I need to know, and I need to know them right now.” Although technology plays a key role in this type of system, equally important is WASPC’s ability to build relationships and trust among various public safety agencies and the owners of facilities, which is especially important when an incident requires mutual aid or involves a larger geographic area.

The CIPMS system is a five-step program, beginning with preplanning meetings between local first responders and facility owners to discuss each other’s needs for a wide variety of emergency situations. The second step is collecting existing data, such as tactical preplans, floor plans, aerial photos, evacuation plans, and so on, and digitizing this information so that it can be entered into a computer system. The third step is the “digital cataloging” of facilities—taking hundreds of photos of the facility, including entrances, fences, exits, door swings, open spaces, offices and classrooms, rooftops, mechanical spaces, and so on. The fourth step is entering all that data into the CIPMS, followed by a rigorous quality control process to verify data accuracy. The final step is to train both first responders who will use the system and facility administrators who will update the data.

In evaluating the Washington state system, WASPC feels a statewide CIPMS offers the following benefits:

  • Building trust and fostering communication: The system provides an opportunity for facility owners and first responders to openly discuss each other’s roles and concerns covering a wide variety of emergency situations, from shootings and lockdowns to fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, and hazmat spills.

  • Providing instant access to critical data: Facility information is up to date, including floor plans, interior and exterior photos, geospatial and site imagery, staging areas, hazardous-materials locations and quantities, utility shutoffs, roadblocks, evacuation routes, and much more.

  • Saving time: Preplans can be viewed en route via mobile data terminals in police cars and fire trucks, networked computers in dispatch centers, or portable USB storage devices, allowing for a faster and safer response.

  • Ease of use: The simple, visually oriented interface is easy and quick for first responders to learn and use during the chaos of an emergency.

  • Replacing outdated three-ring binders: Typically outdated three-ring binders, which can be difficult to use during an emergency, are replaced with a single, highly secure database that presents disparate data in a standardized format.

  • Ease of updating data: Administrators can easily update changes to a facility’s data via the Web. As remote users log on to the Web site, changes are downloaded to their computers.

  • High level of data security: The system is accessed with a browser secured with 128-bit Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption. The stand-alone application delivers content to remote end users utilizing Extensible Markup Language (XML) encryption. Content residing locally on a computer’s hard drive can be password protected, and both text and photos are encrypted.

  • Supporting homeland security requirements for all-hazards approach: Satisfies presidential directives (namely, HSPD 5, 7, and 8) requiring federal, state, and local agencies to enhance security and preparedness to prevent, mitigate, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism using an all-discipline and all-hazards approach.3

  • Facilitating data sharing during mutual-aid responses: Access to the CIPMS can be granted to military, government, and other agencies responding to an out-of-state disaster, giving them the ability to develop tactical plans en route.

  • Ability to function as a regional system: The system can store data on thousands of facilities and is compliant with the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and Incident Command System (ICS) plans and protocols used by most first responders.

  • Reducing property damage and recovery time: Quicker access to information improves response times, which in turn helps to reduce property damage and speeds up recovery time.

System Expansion

In addition to concerns about shootings at schools, recent news articles have noted U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warnings about how terrorists could use school buses to infiltrate school campuses or attack children on the buses. After the shooting crisis at Lewis and Clark High School, the school’s district safety director made the decision to create digital maps of all of their school buses. Some people thought this was unnecessary, but unfortunately, school buses represent a high risk. If an incident took place on a bus, first responders would need to know the mechanics and layout of the bus. In reality, school buses come in a variety of configurations. For example, some have fuel shut-offs in the back, so officials using Rapid Responder could tell police or fire which lever to turn to cut off the fuel supply to prevent fires or explosions. In addition, buses have different configurations of exit doors, including some with exits on the roof—information that could prove valuable in effecting an entry to the bus or rescuing children after an accident.

In another example, the historic Davenport Hotel played host to the 2005 Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference in Spokane. A long list of high-profile guests, including then Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor, were attending the event. The U.S. Marshal’s Office, concerned about several attacks on judges that year, worked with WASPC/Prepared Response to create digital maps of the hotel and conference center with the Rapid Responder system.

Al Odenthal, assistant police chief in Spokane, said, “The real advantage for first responders is, I don’t need to find somebody to tell me in words what the layout of the hotel or its rooms are; I can see that for myself, and if I need to make copies of that for tactical teams or observation points, I can do that in a hurry.”4 In this instance, with both Spokane Police and the U.S. Marshal’s Office sharing jurisdiction, having access to a common database helped alleviate any ambiguity about the facility and its layout.

Moving toward standardized regional and national systems is a big step, and having the support of federal agencies helps provide credibility and lure potential funding sources. On July 16, 2006, DHS certified PRI’s Rapid Responder crisis management system under the Support for Anti-Terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies (SAFETY) Act.5 Certification is the highest level of liability protection available under the SAFETY Act and, in effect, shields PRI’s customers from legal claims resulting from acts of terrorism. To date, fewer than 100 technologies have been granted this certification, with Rapid Responder the only crisis management system recognized as “Qualified Anti-Terrorism Technology.” In addition, Rapid Responder has also been accepted by the Standardized Equipment List (SEL), a listing provided to responders by the InterAgency Board for Equipment Standardization and Interoperability (IAB).

Crisis Management Systems in Other States

In addition to covering the state of Washington, systems similar to Washington’s CIPMS/Rapid Responder are under consideration in several other states.

One of the key factors in the success of the CIPMS has been its ability to bridge various agencies and jurisdictions. The confusion that reigned among local, state, and federal agencies during the response to Hurricane Katrina serves to demonstrate the potential value of this type of system. For the first time, all responders will have a single, standardized information source to access during a crisis, so they can literally work from the same page and get their jobs done in less time and with reduced loss of life.

Based on WASPC’s experience designing the system and using it during actual incidents, WASPC feels that the following goals and attributes are critical for success in developing a shared regional or statewide system:

  • Encouraging collaborative preplanning by facilitating meetings involving all parties, including police, sheriffs, state police, tribal police, fire, and EMS, together with facility owners and their vendors (such as transportation)

  • Fostering open dialogue among stakeholders about each other’s needs and dependencies in various emergencies

  • Developing trusted relationships and shared responsibilities among various public safety agencies and facility owners in the event of major disasters involving mutual aid

  • Creating an ability for all stakeholders to quickly access critical data about buildings, facilities, and other critical infrastructure via laptops and/or a Web-accessible database

  • Developing methods for facility owners to update facility data continually and for public safety agencies to update emergency plans via a high-security online link

  • Providing the ability for each agency to share its data securely with other agencies (at their discretion) via the CIPMS

Working Together

Over six years have passed since the tragedy of September 11, 2001. It should not take another crisis of that magnitude to motivate governing agencies to establish unifying systems like Washington’s CIPMS. WASPC saw the benefits of a unified crisis management system and took the initiative to develop such a system. WASPC then recruited other agencies to support its efforts and participate in the program.

A joint organization of sheriffs and police chiefs such as WASPC is unusual at the state level, but it takes some coalition of similar organizations to build support for the program and work with legislators and others to secure funding for this type of statewide program. As facilitator of the Washington program, WASPC brings its integrity and reputation to the table. WASPC is able to facilitate productive discussions that take turf issues completely off the table. In so doing, WASPC has opened doors and built consortia among its members, state fire chiefs, school principals, and other facility operators.

“Geographically and politically, Washington is a big and very diverse state. In cases where there is friction between local agencies, we can help, because WASPC represents the sheriffs and police chiefs. We also work very closely with the fire chiefs association,” said Joe Hawe, a former sheriff and manager of WASPC’s Tactical Operations Support Department. “When there is resistance in one place, our chiefs can visit another jurisdiction and nudge things in the right direction. The CIPMS/Rapid Responder program is so powerful that everyone wants to take part.”

Hurricane Katrina and other disasters have revealed what happens when public safety agencies fail to collaborate, preplan, and communicate. Law enforcement professionals must develop better ways to work together and coordinate their activities with other agencies during disasters. WASPC feels that implementing the CIPMS/Rapid Responder system was a proactive decision that continues to provide strong benefits to both first responders and the public. ¦


1Erin Semple, “Put to the Test,” Access Control and Security Systems, June 2006, (accessed November 2, 2007).
3For more information on homeland security requirements, see HSPD-5 at HSPD-7 at and HSPD-8 at (all accessed November 2, 2007).
4“A Necessary Amenity,” Access Control and Security Systems, July 2007, (accessed November 2, 2007).
5For a list of DHS-approved products under the SAFETY Act, see (accessed November 2, 2007).

Don Pierce is the executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC). WASPC is the only association of its kind in the United States recognized as a unit of local government, combining representatives from local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement into a single body and working toward a common goal.



From The Police Chief, vol. 75, no. 1, January 2008. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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