BERKELEY – Technology that helped kill Osama bin Laden is being introduced across Ocean County to help law enforcement stop school shootings.
The program, which top law enforcement officials described as a “game changer,” will generate maps of emergency scenes that show the location of all first responders on site. The technology, which officers will access on a mobile application, will also allow first responders to communicate directly across agencies.
Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato rolled out the new technology to officials from across Ocean County at an event at Central Regional High School in Berkeley Wednesday, where officers from 12 law enforcement agencies held an active-shooter drill using the new system.
“It’s all about communication,” Coronato said. “People always assume they can communicate, but the reality is often they can’t.”
Coronato said the biggest lesson learned from the 2013 inferno that torched a large stretch of the boardwalk in Seaside Park was that various fire and police agencies didn’t know how to talk to each other, creating a chaotic emergency response.
“This app eliminates that,” he said. “It’s changing the face of law enforcement and saving lives.”
The U.S. military has been using similar technology in elite special operations raids for several years. The night that Navy SEAL Team Six killed Osama Bin Laden in 2011, everyone from President Barack Obama and high-level officials in the White House Situation Room to commandos on the ground in Pakistan used a similar visual plan with a gridded map, officials said.
The local version of the technology, developed by emergency planning firm Critical Response Group and defense and security company BAE Systems, transforms lengthy emergency response plans on paper into visual graphics, said Phil Coyne, the president of Critical Response Group.
“We’re using a system that is very high-tech in order to introduce very simple plans,” he said.
Coyne said the program allows local enforcement to use the lessons of the War on Terror in their own communities, particularly after a series of major school shootings across the country in recent years.
When deployed at a school, the program allows emergency crews to see a layout of the building with doors, room numbers, hallways and major features like the cafeteria and gym labeled. On the app, the location of police, firefighters and paramedics on the scene show up as dots on a map called a Collaborative Response Graphic.
The graphic, which Coyne likened to a football playbook, has a grid so that scene commanders can order crews to various parts of a building without having to explain how to navigate the maze of hallways and classrooms.
“If you came into a school with a SWAT team, they wouldn’t know where the cafeteria is, they wouldn’t know room where room 179 is, but they’ll be able to look at their phone and not only see where they are, but where they need to move,” Coronato said.
As the technology was unveiled, more than 150 law enforcement officers used it in a mass-casualty shooting drill at Central Regional High School. Teams of officers swept through the halls of the school with guns drawn. In one demonstration, Berkeley Township police rescued a girl lying on the ground, pretending to be wounded while a soundtrack of screaming students echoed through the halls.
In another demonstration, a team of seven members of the Ocean County Regional SWAT team, dressed in full tactical gear, fired blanks through the first floor hallway as they pretended to target a shooter. The smell of gunfire wafted through the hall as bullet casings littered the ground.
The technology is already available at about 25 high schools in six districts in Ocean County including Jackson, Toms River and Berkeley. Point Pleasant and Brick are also in the process of implementing the application, the prosecutor’s office said.
Additionally, police will use the program at high-profile events across the county. The technology was used at the Special Olympics Polar Bear Plunge in Seaside Heights last February and it will be employed at this year’s Seaside Semper Five Marine Corps run, which was cancelled last year after a pipe bomb exploded near the route.
The prosecutor’s office is also mapping out county-owned buildings to allow the technology to be used in county courthouses. Coronato said he wants every school in the county as well as hospitals, power plants, places of worships and entertainments venues such as Six Flags Great Adventure and Lakewood’s FirstEnergy Park to adopt the system in the next two to three years.
The program is housed in a secure server which the prosecutor’s office brought for between $25,000 and $50,000 using money confiscated from drug forfeitures, Coronato said. Local school districts and police departments will pay for the cost of mapping, which is about $800 for each floor of a building.
“It’s key we’re staying on the cutting edge,” Coronato said. ““If we don’t use it then it becomes a lost technology.”