School-mapping program no longer on chopping block after Gov. Inslee intervenes

State officials have found a way to save a school-mapping program designed to help first responders during emergencies such as school shootings.

On Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee tapped $500,000 from an emergency fund to continue the Critical Incident Planning and Mapping System, a software program that contains maps and emergency plans for the state’s K-12 schools and community colleges.

The mapping program, which would have been suspended July 1 due to a lack of funding, now will continue through next year, when the state Legislature reconvenes and can find permanent funding for it, officials said.

The software program contains maps, blueprints, building photos and emergency plans for roughly 2,400 public facilities throughout the state, including all of the state’s K-12 schools and community colleges.

According to the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, the system has helped police and fire agencies safely evacuate a Vancouver high school during a bomb threat, initiate a lockdown when someone threatened to shoot people inside a Thurston County courthouse, and plan evacuation routes when a warehouse fire threatened chemical storage tanks.

The program was on the verge of being shut down after the Legislature didn’t provide more money this year to make up for lower-than-expected traffic ticket revenues. The mapping program, which the sheriffs group administers, has been funded through traffic ticket surcharges for the past few years.

Lawmakers said they weren’t aware that failing to add money would result in the program being cut at the start of the new fiscal year.

State Sen. Andy Hill, the chief budget writer in the state Senate, said Tuesday he was pleased Inslee stepped in to keep the program alive.

Hill, R-Redmond, said these kinds of situations are why the Legislature created a $1.7 million emergency fund for the governor’s office in the first place.

“Since we (lawmakers) only meet for a few months a year, it’s good to have a little money for discretion,” Hill said.

“It’s not a lot of money, but it’s to kind of handle these unforeseen things where we may not have seen something coming, or something comes up.”

The CEO of Prepared Response, the Tacoma-based company that runs the mapping program, issued a statement Tuesday thanking Hill and Inslee for their work to make sure the program doesn’t lapse.

“There is no ‘on’ or ‘off’ switch for emergencies so there should be no ‘on’ or ‘off’ switch for emergency preparedness,” Tobey Bryant said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for Inslee’s office said last week that the governor didn’t have the power to save the program.

But officials reviewed what funds they had available and decided that they could legally offer the money if they routed it through the state’s Criminal Justice Training Commission, rather giving it directly to the vendor or the association of sheriffs and police chiefs, said David Schumacher, the governor’s budget director.

Money from the governor’s $1.7 million emergency fund can only go to state agencies, Schumacher said.

Schumacher said Inslee decided to intervene to save the program at the urging of lawmakers from both political parties.

“Once we figured out it was within our ability to solve the problem, then we went forward,” Schumacher said. 

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