PARAMUS – The state will spend $6.5 million from its federal COVID recovery funds to collect and digitize school building blueprints for first responders who may need to react quickly to any emergencies.

Since 2019, roughly half of the school buildings in New Jersey – around 1,500 of the 3,000 public and private schools – have been rendered as collaborative response graphics, or CRGs, accessible to first responders. The state intends to map the remaining 1,500 schools by September 2023.

“An important part of school safety is ensuring that first responders have the tools they need to answer any emergency of any size and at any time,” Gov. Phil Murphy said. “When every second matters, the first and perhaps most important tool is the ability to know without delay not just where an emergency is in a building but also the fastest and safest route to get there.”

Murphy said the CRGs are more accurate and compatible with existing software platforms than construction schematics that are large and unwieldy.

“We can’t just hope that a police officer or a firefighter or an emergency medical professional rushing into a school knows where they’re going,” Murphy said.

“Most law enforcement officers, the first time they enter a school facility will likely be during an emergency,” said Laurie Doran, director of the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-Wyckoff, said there have been 119 shootings in K-12 schools nationwide since 2018.

“Scores of children and teachers have died. It’s a clear danger, and we saw that with the tragedy in Texas, every second in these situations count,” Gottheimer said.

Legislation is pending in Trenton that would require all schools to submit this sort of mapping data to local police. The Senate and Assembly education committees endorsed it in June, but the bill awaits a vote by the full Senate and is pending before a second Assembly committee for consideration.

Sen. Joseph Lagana, D-Bergen, said there will be more school shootings, with the only questions being when and where. He said changes like digital blueprints can help combat that by putting military-grade technology into schools.

“We are being proactive. We are not being reactive,” Lagana said. “And I think when it comes to school security, each and every day we have to think of ways to make our schools safer. We don’t want them to look like courthouses, but there does need to be a certain level of security at our schools.”

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The New Jersey State Police and Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness will contract with an outside vendor to assist with the mapping.

After all the maps are collected, local police will be required to walk through each building yearly to ensure the information is accurate and up-to-date.

Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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