After Littleton: High tech firm helps 'first responders'

Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Today, school safety and the ability to respond to an emergency or crisis situation at a school has become of paramount importance. Crime, particularly violent crime, is a problem at many schools around the country. Consider these startling statistics:

• From 1996 through 2000, teachers were victims of 1,603,000 nonfatal crimes at school, including 1,004,000 thefts and 599,000 violent crimes. On average, this translates into 74 crimes per 1,000 teachers per year.

• In the year 2000 alone, students between the ages of 12 and 18 were the victims of 700,000 violent crimes and 1.2 million crimes of theft at school.

• Last year 9 percent of all students and education staff nationwide were victims of felonies.

On April 20, 1999, the unthinkable happened in Columbine, Colorado when 13 students and staff were killed and 23 wounded by 2 students who entered the school with firearms and went on a literal rampage. No parent, teacher or school administrator will ever think of school safety and security the same way again. But Columbine may have just focused attention on a problem that had been lingering for some time. Americans had almost become desensitized to school violence before Columbine. There were literally hundreds of murders in our schools before most of us ever heard of the name Columbine.

The events of September 11, 2001 and the ongoing threat of terrorism have only served to reinforce the need for high security on our school campuses. School violence is actually compounded by Homeland Defense issues. What better way to spread true terror than by attacking a school? In Israel, schools and school buses are common targets of Islamist terrorists.

An important first step

Fortunately, efforts are being made to establish procedures and standards for keeping schools safe and dealing with emergencies. The first step in that effort is known as “The SOS Littleton Initiative.”

The SOS Littleton Initiative was spearheaded by the Littleton, Colorado Public School District and Xybernaut Corp., the world leader in tactical, wearable computers, to conduct a full-scale school emergency management demonstration to identify the best-practices and technology solutions to assist first-responders during school emergencies.

Specifically, the Littleton Initiative is designed to benefit schools in Colorado by assisting in the digital mapping and archiving of critical operational information necessary to initiate tactical intervention, rescue, and recovery operations at a number of school district sites.

Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado was a key to putting together a May 21st training exercise in Littleton and he had the Columbine tragedy in mind when he decided to lend his support:

“No one will ever forget the tragic Columbine shootings in 1999. It is a constant reminder that we must continue to do all we can do to prevent further tragedies at our nation’s schools. That is why I fully support the Littleton Initiative. One of the chief obstacles responders had difficulty overcoming in the Columbine tragedy was the lack of an updated and accessible information clearinghouse allowing emergency personnel to obtain even rudimentary information about the building—things like the location of exits, hallways, or even a basic floor plan for the school. Acquiring that information could someday help us save lives.”

Under the Littleton Initiative, the first responder communities in Littleton, Colorado, a suburb of Denver, conducted a full-scale evaluation of technologies and best practices for managing emergencies at schools.

A high-tech tactical training exercise

Tactical first responder units from federal, state and local law enforcement demonstrated procedures and technologies implemented under the Littleton Initiative program in a full-scale, mock training exercise at the Littleton Elementary School. The purpose of the exercise was to demonstrate how the school district and the first responders would perform in the event of a school emergency.

One of the units participating in the exercise was the Littleton Police Department’s SWAT team, commanded by Lt. Bill Black. Largely due to the Columbine tragedy, Littleton SWAT trains at school sites six times per year, after the school district requested an active training association with school security personnel. Black says that his team has conducted roughly a dozen exercises with the school district.

The May 21 exercise was the first exercise in which Black’s team was able to test Xybernaut equipment and the “SEMPS” (School Emergency Management Program) system. Created by Guy Grace, the manager of safety, security and emergency planning for the Littleton Public School District, SEMPS has the potential to make first responders instantly capable when they arrive on the scene of a school-based emergency. Using Xybernaut hardware, a SWAT team can use SEMPS to call up stored images of a school’s interior layout, or even video of classrooms and passageways before they enter the school. The system can also show firefighters where to find a school’s shutoff valves and it could be used to alert police to potential hiding places for intruders.

The training was designed to be very realistic and involved scripted scenarios using actors. Among the scenarios that were presented were an “active shooter” script and a hostage rescue situation. Xybernaut computers, using the SEMPS software, are instrumental in such scenarios. This combination puts a wealth of information right at the disposal of the on-scene tactical commander, including imagery of the target area.

The Effects of 9-11

Lt. Black explained that units such as his, even in smaller municipalities, have had a change in emphasis since the September 11th terrorist attacks. More and more of their training involves countering weapons of mass destruction (WMD). As might be expected, the equipment needs for such missions are extensive and most departments are still ramping up nearly two years after 9-11, still outfitting for WMD. Unfortunately, much of the Homeland Defense money has not trickled down from the Feds; in the last fiscal year, the state of Colorado received only a $5 million grant for the entire state.

Xybernaut equipment can be vital in WMD scenarios, particularly since their computers have already been integrated with and are totally compatible with all known WMD sensors in the US inventory.

Going nationwide

The Littleton Initiative is just the first part of a larger nationwide effort to establish safety standards in schools. The individual who had more to do with creating the Littleton Initiative was Guy Grace:

“The most important fact is that we are using this as a platform to talk about the “SOS” Standards of Safety in our nation’s schools. All school district across the nation should have standards for dealing with school-based emergencies and security operations. At this time there are no set standards for any school district to follow when it comes to security operations. The overall objective is to emphasize the importance of high standards of safety in our nation’s schools.”

Grace went on to say, “ School-based emergencies present an array of significant issues, particularly in our day and age. All educational entities are well advised to adopt response procedures and technology designed for immediate, effective implementation. An effective response in dealing with today’s types of school emergencies starts with using the appropriate action learned from one’s training and in many cases using necessary technology to facilitate that appropriate response.

And Grace is definitely doing his part to make nationwide standards a reality and develop technology to make America’s schools safer. He created the software that is the heart of a portable emergency response system. The SEMPS software works with Xybernaut hardware to give SWAT and fire/rescue teams a leap forward in terms of technological capability. Grace and Xybernaut have worked as a team to ensure that first responders could make use of his immensely valuable tool. The SEMPS software works with all of Xybernaut’s wearable computers, including the ubiquitous MA V, the first choice among military and law enforcement units around the world, to form the portable emergency response system. This 1-pound, 500 Mhz computer can be fitted on an emergency response vehicle, complete with a small monitor, a keyboard, and a headset. Of course, the computer also becomes portable when attached to the belt of a police officer wearing the headset and monitor. The system also includes tiny, chest-mounted cameras that could allow a police officer conducting a search to transmit live images back to the monitor.

According to Grace, Xybernaut’s MA V is a great platform for running the virtual tour section of SEMPS due to its mobile computer configuration. The MA V also offers hands free display and voice activated browsing of the SEMPS program. Moreover, the MA V is wireless compatible. This allows it to be used as a web browser on the go or as a server to other mobile devices, including computer-operated cameras, sensors of various types and hand-held devices. In addition to the MA V, Xybernaut’s new Atigo line of ultra-user-friendly mobile/wearable computers look very promising, according to Grace.

It comes as no surprise that Xybernaut has stepped up to provide the tools to help school security and law enforcement officials use the SEMPS system to make our schools safer. As Xybernaut CEO Steve Newman likes to say: “We specialize in ‘mass customization.’ We always build in special features and capabilities for every customer.”

Grace actually began developing his software before the Columbine tragedy happened as a better way to investigate break-ins when he began compiling detailed information about Littleton’s public school buildings on computer. According to Mr. Grace, the objective was to assemble all the data that would be needed in school-based emergencies for each school within his district into easily accessible formats using CD/DVD ROM and PC hard drive storage. The software can provide school, police and fire department leaders with a virtual tour of school facilities and contains comprehensive, interactive, hyperlinked information that includes emergency contacts, main utility shut-off locations, security system and fire system device locations, building floor plans, maps, video photography, related community information, and aerial photographs.

The Littleton School District, in conjunction with the Colorado Association of School Resource Officers is now hard at work in preparing and formalizing the concepts of the SEMPS program and distributing it to other school districts and public safety agencies throughout the US and Canada. SEMPS can be customized to meet the needs of any sized agency, providing a cost-effective and fully operational source of information. Best of all, the SEMPS application is available for FREE as a platform from which more effective emergency management can be coordinated to schools.

Xybernaut and Grace had been testing the system with the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Department and the Littleton police and fire departments even before the May 21st exercise and it holds great promise for future law enforcement and rescue work nationwide.

Also working with Xybernaut on this system was Second Chance Body Armor, America’s leading provider of ballistic vests and other forms of body armor. Second Chance’s founder, Richard Davis invented soft body armor and, in the early days, literally stood, not just behind, but also in his product while it was being tested against the impact of bullets!

In addition to being a pioneer in the field of body armor more than three decades ago, Second Chance has worked with Xybernaut in pioneering body armor than can incorporate and protect Xybernaut systems in a real-world tactical environment. The two firms have been working together in a strategic partnership for five years providing equipment to both law enforcement and the defense department. Second Chance’s products specialize in saving lives and have done so in 896 cases over the past thirty years. Obviously, first responders have an absolute need for body armor because they put their lives on the line every day in potentially deadly situations. Xybernaut and Second Chance have worked together to integrate Xybernaut’s wearable computers with Second Chance’s tactical vests to give law enforcement the best tools to deal with varying situations. The Xybernaut/Second Chance configuration is the only one of its type in the world and includes a CJAZ tactical vest with a channeling system for wiring and system components. Second Chance’s vests not only protect the wearer, they also protect the computer he is wearing—against rounds up to .44 magnum (adding plates to the vest can increase the ballistic protection level even more).

Second Chance had three representatives on hand at Littleton to help law enforcement personnel with their product line: Factory Representative Matt Davis, Tactical Products Manager Steve Samek and Tactical Instructor Richard Wren.

Tancredo has been trying to arrange funding for a nationwide initiative. On April 24th, he requested that the Justice Department provide funding under the new “Secure Our Schools” program. That program would incorporate many of the features that Grace and Xybernaut have pioneered, including, digital archiving of floor plans, utility diagrams, digital photographs of rooms, hallways, and other areas that could be made available to first responders, assisting them in crisis situations like the Columbine tragedy. The information would also be useful in meeting a variety of other homeland security and first responder needs.

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