Livingston seeking electronic copies of building layouts

Livingston Parish businesses soon may be required to provide electronic copies of their building layouts to parish government for emergency response planning.

Mark Harrell, director of the parish’s Office of Emergency Planning, is drafting an ordinance to require business owners to submit the plans in a format that can be used in Virtual Louisiana.

Virtual Louisiana is a computerized mapping tool that allows first responders to access multiple types and sources of information for emergency response and planning purposes.

The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness rolled out the Virtual Louisiana platform in 2007, but it has been of limited use in parishes like Livingston for which minimal local data has been uploaded, parish officials said.

As more information is added, however, responders envision many uses for the platform.

School officials already submit electronic copies of their building layouts to emergency responders as required by state law, Harrell said.

“Lots of fire departments also have paper plans of commercial buildings, but not all,” Harrell said. “We’re trying to get them all, and get them electronically, so if there’s a collapsed structure, a shooter or an intruder, for example, we’ll have the floor plans for first responders to use to help them determine what to do.”

With electronic plans uploaded to Virtual Louisiana, first responders could access the information from any computer with internet access.

“It only takes a laptop or iPad, no special equipment. That’s the good thing about it,” Harrell said. “You just pull up the map and click on it, and there’s the floor plan.”

The mapping feature also would allow responders to view surrounding buildings, streets, fire hydrants and other information specific to that location, he said.

“It’s just giving them the tools they need to do their job,” he said.

Having more local data uploaded to Virtual Louisiana would aid in large-scale disaster response as well, said Capt. Jack Varnado, director of the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office communications division.

Aerial photography, waterway mapping and detailed street information would be helpful in responding to natural disasters like hurricanes and flooding, planning traffic flow for evacuations and determining where to station personnel and supplies, Varnado said.

“There are just so many potential uses for this,” he said. “ We can pinpoint the closest hydrants in case of fires, know where hazardous materials are kept in a commercial building or where people are likely to be gathered in a school.”

Varnado said it would also help responders identify media staging points, parent pick-up points, triage and ambulance entry and exit.

“These are things the community doesn’t necessarily want to think about, especially where schools are concerned,” Varnado said. “But from the public safety side, we have to think about it and make plans for how we would respond to all these types of events.”

Having the different data types uploaded to a single system would enable all responders to “get on the same page,” he added.

“Every person who uses the program will be looking at the exact same data, instead of different versions of paper maps or plans,” Varnado said.