New Computer Technology Increases School Security

Published April 1, 2005

High-tech security will soon help protect an already secure environment at The Governor French Academy, a small, private college-preparatory school in Belleville, Illinois.

Founded in 1983, the K-12 school has always offered a secure environment for students, but school officials are now taking that security into the twenty-first century with geographic mapping technology. Officials expect the system to be fully operational this summer.

Joining forces with the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Laboratory of St. Louis University, the academy is the first school in the St. Louis Metro East area to add the Crisis Intervention Response Application (CIRA) program to its arsenal of school security plans. Through CIRA, first responders to an emergency situation will be able to “enter” the building virtually, in order to better plan their response, before arriving at the site.

School Mapped Digitally

Under a grant from the Stupp Foundation, St. Louis University established the GIS program in 2003. Students and staff in the program contract with schools and other private and public agencies to provide digital mapping of the client’s buildings and surrounding areas. Through digital photography, every area of the client building is detailed in 360-degree photo images. Those images are melded into a set of architectural plans and aerial photographs.

All of the information is stored on a CD-ROM provided to area fire and police departments, the first responders in an emergency. The agencies can access maps, blueprints, and interior photos on the disk to “see” the building inside and out prior to arrival or entry.

CIRA “was created so first responders can easily walk through the building in case there is an emergency,” according to Jim Gilsinan, dean of the university’s College of Public Service. CIRA gives first responders the opportunity to plan more effectively in an emergency and clearly designate entry scenarios and action plans within a specified building, allowing speedier and safer response in any type of emergency.

Other Schools’ Adoption Expected

Seeking to disperse the technology to schools in the St. Louis area, the GIS Lab works with school staff and students to maintain and update the program after the initial program is written. Other schools are expected to follow the lead of The Governor French Academy in engaging the new technology.

The mission of the program is “to teach, to research, and to serve,” explained Gary Higgs, director of the GIS Lab. “We are looking for partners with which to develop and share this technology. And it doesn’t matter where those partners are in relation to St. Louis, Missouri,” he added.

Local police and even the U.S. attorney for the area are interested in getting more schools to participate in the program.

“It’s tactically wonderful to be able to look at something and have a layout of a building you’re going into and a plan of attack,” said Sgt. Don Sax of the Belleville Police Department. Sax said he hopes other schools and agencies will take advantage of digital mapping technology.

Students Participate in Mapping

CIRA offers a learning experience for students, too. Governor French Academy students already have begun measuring and mapping the academy’s campus to generate required blueprints, while students and staff from St. Louis University are photographing the academy’s interior using a digital camera with a fisheye lens. Generating the final CIRA disk is expected to take several months.

Implementation of this kind of mapping technology normally costs tens of thousands of dollars, but because of the university’s collaborative GIS program, the digitized mapping of The Governor French Academy will cost dramatically less.

Paul Seibert ([email protected]) is director of Charter Consultants, a division of The Governor French Academy, Inc., of Belleville, Illinois, and editor of the Illinois Charter School Facs.

For more information …

Additional information is available from The Governor French Academy at 618/233-7542 and from St. Louis University’s Norman J. Stupp Geographic Information Systems Laboratory at 314/977-3384, or online at