FastNav owners hope to win over schools, but hurdles await

Company seeks a better way for first responders?

By Libby Clark, Columbian Web Editor

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The seconds and minutes after a gunman threatens a school are the most critical time for law enforcement to help prevent a tragedy. Yet, these first responders often arrive to a scene without all of the information and tools they need, said Vancouver Police Officer Rey Reynolds.

That’s why Reynolds founded FastNav, a Web-based navigation software system to help police officers quickly and easily respond to school disasters including potential bomb threats, shootings and terrorist attacks. FastNav aims to improve on the current state-adopted Rapid Responder system, which has many of the same features and information but is too clunky for patrol officers to use, Reynolds said.

“Our system right now isn’t set up for the individual officer, it’s set up for the administrators after an event has happened,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds and his co-founders Mark Moy, a self-defense instructor, and Alexis Jasso, a software engineer have one major investor: Vancouver-based U.S. Digital, which has set aside $1 million to develop the software and equipment in exchange for a large, undisclosed stake in the company.

U.S. Digital owner David Madore, who is incubating a few startups at his company’s headquarters at 1400 N.E. 136th Ave., says the effort is part of his own “awakening” to the social role of business in communities. (That same realization prompted him to fund the NoTolls.com political action committee this year to oppose public tolls on the Columbia River Crossing bridge project, and a Clark County media website in the early stages of development.)

“We’re not trying to sell (schools) something, we’re trying to help them,” Madore said. “It’s a business ... to solve a problem and save lives.”

Reynolds and Madore have already demonstrated FastNav to the Vancouver and Evergreen school districts, Vancouver Police Department and Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency, among others. FastNav hopes to convince Clark County law enforcement agencies and school districts to test their new system before the company sells it nationally.

The setup and software would be free to those testing it, Madore said. But money won’t be the company’s main obstacle at first, he said. “There’s politics and bureaucracy involved.”

State and local law enforcement officials and school administrators say they’re already prepared for the worst and FastNav would only offer incremental improvements to the existing system.

“We’ve worked with schools for many years to prepare for these scenarios,” said Kim Kapp, spokeswoman for the Vancouver Police Department.

State support needed

FastNav works like a more current and detailed Google map of individual school campuses. The company uses remote-controlled helicopters to take aerial photographs of the premises and loads these images into a large database. Officers can then call up the maps and photos via the Web from their patrol cars with a few taps of a finger.

The company also installs a secure vault on campus that holds a kit containing master keys for the building, charges for forcing open doors, laminated maps with all the major system controls marked, a deck of personnel cards for easy identification of teachers and administrators, along with other tools for quickly navigating the building.

“If there’s a situation where the school goes into lockdown, this system provides what we do not have: access to the facility and detailed information about the schools,” Reynolds said.

Like all Washington schools, Evergreen Public Schools is part of the Rapid Responder system. The district is considering adopting FastNav as an extra precaution against intruders, said Scott Deutsch, who manages risk and safety for the district. FastNav makes it easier for the responding officer to see where an incident is happening within a school, an improvement over Rapid Responder, he said.

However, if the school wanted to replace Rapid Responder with FastNav, it would have to seek approval from the state legislature, Deutsch said.

State legislators selected Rapid Responder in 2001 as the state’s official emergency response software, and have since provided $20 million to local school districts to participate. That contract was renewed last year and doesn’t expire until 2015, said Bruce Kuennen, manager of tactical operations support for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

“I certainly don’t see (FastNav) as competition,” said Kuennen, who has seen a FastNav demonstration. “I was hoping we could find some ways to collaborate... They do have some features that can be integrated into our system.”

Without legislative approval, the startup faces other challenges if it hopes to earn wide adoption by Washington schools. Once it’s up and running, FastNav will charge each school about $9,000 per year to maintain the database and coordinate planning and training exercises with local law enforcement. That could be a tough sell to schools in an ongoing budget crisis.

“The state somewhat supported rapid responder; they put funding towards a lot of the product so that’s what we use,” said Tom Griffith, director of the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency. “Whether one (system) is better than the other, that’s not our decision here.”