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Schools’ use of GIS systems wins national recognition

NNBW Staff

Washoe County School District tied its Geographic Information System with school police functions, winning national recognition in the process.

Vanessa Simpson, GIS analyst for the school district, loaded the software onto three dispatch computers to provide answers to two questions posed by school police:

The first: Should an incident occur in the community, what schools are within a certain radius of the ruckus? Nearby schools can be locked down, and the students kept inside. Such a situation occurred near McQueen High School a few years back, says Simpson.

And, although daycare centers, charter schools and private schools are not in its jurisdiction, the school district also maps their location so they can be notified as well.

The system also helps school police locate children who did not go home immediately after school. They’re usually found at a neighborhood park or at a friend’s house. The GIS system maps the location of the student’s home and the homes of fellow students nearby.

“Police know where to start knocking on doors,” says Simpson.

Student safety is also a concern when district employees decide where to situate bus stops, says Simpson. The software maps the homes of convicted sex offenders and alerts the school district to put the bus stop someplace other than in front of those houses.

And, in the event of an emergency, the software depicts emergency staging areas at each of the schools. Evacuation plans, roadblocks and helicopter landing areas are being created as layer files to enhance emergency response.

GIS also assists with school zoning and rezoning, plotting efficient bus routes, student population projections and future school locations.

The district received a Special Achievement in GIS Award at the Annual ESRI International User Conference in San Diego. ESRI is the company that sells the software.

Washoe County School District brought Geographic Information Systems in house around 2000. Before that, wall maps with push pins served the purpose. But now, with the computerized system, it’s easy to print out school zoning maps, says Simpson.

“When parents see it, they not only understand zoning changes but feel involved,” she says.