WRAL Investigates

NC school districts fail to meet security deadline

Posted July 29, 2015 6:15 p.m. EDT
Updated July 30, 2015 1:38 p.m. EDT

— Time is crucial when responding to emergencies, especially at schools. First responders need to know how to get inside and where to go, but some North Carolina schools have made it more difficult for emergency crews to help.

In data provided by the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, WRAL Investigates found that a third of state school districts – 38 of 115 – failed to submit detailed digital blueprints of all their campuses to local and state emergency management officials by the June 1 deadline. The schools have been scrambling to get the information in before the new school year begins.

Mike Anderson, deputy director of the North Carolina Center for Safer Schools, says the digitized information will arm first responders with critical maps before they arrive for everything from a shooting to hazmat situation.

“To create a total community communication to respond to these things is paramount right now,” he said, adding that blueprints could “absolutely” help save lives.

In 2014, state lawmakers gave public schools about a year to produce building schematics, including blueprints and any building renovations. When the deadline passed on June 1, WRAL Investigates found 38 school districts across the state had submitted only a portion or none of the required schematics.

Schools that missed the deadline

Click on the plus sign next to each district to see which schools did not submit building schematics by June 1. Some of the schools have since submitted plans or are working on submitting plans. Source: N.C. Department of Public Safety

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John Dorman, assistant director of North Carolina Emergency Management, the agency handling the school blueprints, downplayed the delay, especially for rural schools with limited resources.

“I truly believe with confidence that they're working to get this data to us,” he said. “School safety is on the front part of their minds.”

Twelve districts in the WRAL viewing area missed the deadline, including Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, which failed to submit blueprints for seven schools, including Mary Scroggs Elementary in Southern Village.

“I'm surprised, especially since the incident that occurred a couple of years ago here, which was very serious,” said Chapel Hill resident Diane Weinstein.

In 2012, Mary Scroggs elementary went into lockdown when a man shot and killed his estranged wife in the carpool line.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools spokesman Jeff Nash says the district missed the deadline “on just a few of our schools because it took a little longer to get the schematics. All the other ones we had on time and sent them in.”

Nash says all the blueprints have been submitted.

“School safety is a priority for us and so we have taken a lot of steps in the last year or two to make sure our schools are safer,” he said. “In addition to getting the new schematics and sending them off to the state, we've also had a national consultant come in and work with us, walking through our schools looking for areas we can upgrade.”

After WRAL Investigates starting asking about the missing blueprints, many of the schools worked to comply with the law.

Some of the school leaders said they with were confused about where to send their plans, whether to the Department of Public Safety or Department of Public Instruction. Others admitted the process took longer than expected.

Charter schools, which receive taxpayer money, are not required to submit plans. WRAL Investigates has reached out to sponsors of the law to find out why.

Correction: Northampton County Schools was initially included in the list of districts that did not submit blueprints by June 1. School officials say the deadline was met.