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This is a movie and police-procedural TV-show cliche that we all know: The police captain (or insert-your-favourite-law-enforcement-officer) realises he (I can't recall it ever being a she.) has a "situation" involving bad guys inside a building that he needs to get out. He shouts: "Somebody get me the plans to this building!". Minutes later the cops are spreading out the blueprints on the bonnet of the car to find the best entry point.

The Bourne Ultimatum is a random example:

VOSEN: Get an elevation and a floor plan, tic-tac-toe.

In that film, the blueprints were immediately sent to an agent's phone.

I know it is all exaggerated in the movies, but my question is "Is there a morsel of truth to this?"

Is it a legitimate and common police tactic to obtain copies of floor plans before embarking on planned raids? Or is this another item that cops roll their eyes at when they see it on television?

I'd accept it as a "Yes" if it was true in any major city in the world. In the absense of that, I'd (provisionally) accept it as a "No" if there were any official denials from major jurisdictions. Open to other evidence too.

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    I suspect this depends on the local regulations (and different management styles at city hall will likely have an impact too). Many builders have to file a building plan with the city to get permits to build, and my understanding is that one reason these are kept on file is for safety so that the fire department can access them when there is a need (there probably is a criteria factor such as the seriousness or type of fire, etc.). If there's a hostage situation, it makes sense that the building plans could also be useful to the local policing authorities. – Randolf Richardson Oct 27 '11 at 14:47
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    @Oddthinking - not quite sure what you're asking. Are you asking if it's feasible that police would have access? (in which case as Randolf noted, the answer is usually yes but depends on municipality rules for filing the plans - I'm not aware of any municipalities where that is optional though). Or are you asking whether (assuming the plans ARE available) there is a standard police procedure to access them in specific situation? – user5341 Oct 27 '11 at 17:44
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    @DVK, I am sure it is technically feasible to have a database of plans, as filed for building approval. I am sure it would be a bureaucratic nightmare to persuade a council/municipality/city to provide them in the first place. I'm asking if any jurisdictions have done the ground work for it to actually happen - maybe not as "standard" police procedure, but often enough that it isn't a novelty, and fast enough so the results are available quickly - i.e. say less than an hour. In the options you provided, your last sentence is the closest. – Oddthinking Oct 27 '11 at 18:08
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    Good luck having current plans available. In my experience, even building owners can't come up with current building plans... :-) – Brian Knoblauch Oct 27 '11 at 18:09
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    It depends... If they have hours to solve the problem then it will be signifigantly harder to find the plans than if you only have a few minutes to save the world. – Chad Mar 29 '13 at 13:34
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It's at least possible for the police (or anyone else) to do this in Sweden, since the documents pertaining to the building permit include a complete building plan.

All documents filed with a government agency (local or national) in Sweden by default becomes parts of the public record, freely available for everyone (citizen as well as foreign), unless another law specificity puts them under secrecy. No such law protects building plans, which are handled by a branch of the municipality.

Under Swedish law, a request for such public documents must be met ASAP, i.e. if the police, or even a private citizen, comes in person to request a building plan it must be fetched and copied for them right away. Some municipalities make building permits available at public computer terminals for easy access by the public.

Sorry to say, I have no knowledge about if the Swedish police usually uses this possibility in the manner specified by the question.

References:

  • now try to get such data for a building constructed before that law was put into effect. It won't exist. So the police do NOT have access to plans for at least some buildings. – jwenting Apr 2 '13 at 10:52
  • @jwenting: Very true. The archives of such plans extends at least to buildings built and/or gone through major changes since the latter part of the 19th century, but there do exist a portion of buildings older than that for which there may or may not exist building plans in the public archives. – David Högberg Apr 5 '13 at 11:52
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Yes, it is possible to do this in the United States depending on several factors. But unless the CIA goes around the world collecting and storing blueprints (which they might), it is probably a plot device.

It would be terrible boring to watch someone file a Freedom of Information Requst (FOI) or wait for some clerk in some city track down a set of construction documents that might or might not exist. If there was an international spy in my city of 35,000 people in rural Missouri, in a building built since the 1960s, I most likely could get them a copy of a building plan. But they might wait an hour while I found it, scanned and emailed it to them. Jason Bourne would be long gone...


Short-Explanation

In the United States, it depends on the locale and the policies that govern the area. These policies can affected by local, county, state and federal regulations.

In Missouri, any record that I create can be considered a Public Record and therefore open to request by anyone who requests the information be it a citizen, police, or clandestine organization. Freedom of Information Act

A "record" is defined as any "document, book, paper, photograph, map, sound recording or other material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or in connection with the transaction of official business" (109.210(5) RSMo). This definition includes those records created, used and maintained in electronic form.

This includes construction documents that are submitted to Community Development for a construction permit. However, how long that document is kept or its availability is subject to other factors like retention policy.


Extra-Long Explaination and Real-Life Example

In the United States, construction document retention depends on local jurisdiction. Some states, counties and local municipalities have their own record retention policies and codes for new construction. It is up to the local jurisdiction and what policies they put forth.

For example, the state of Missouri does not have state enforced building codes in where as they do not conflict or meet Federal codes (usually EPA sanitary waste rules).

Some counties in Missouri have building codes they adopted, example being Jackson County; while some(most) counties in Missouri do not have building codes.

Cities within a county can adopt building codes. For example, the municipality that I work has adopted the ICC: IBC 2012, IRC 2012, IPMC 2012, IECC 2012, IMC 2012, IFCC 2012, NEC 2011 (NFPA 70), and the NFPA as a whole, but the county has no construction codes whatsoever.

To ensure that a set of building documents meets all these adopted building codes, we require at least two sets of plans, an office copy and a job copy. After plan review and approval, the job copy is returned to the general contractor. This should be the document that used for construction, and it should be identical to the office copy that the city then keeps. Any changes have to be approved otherwise the construction can be halted, torn-out or face the city in court.

Once the project is completed we issue a Certificate of Occupancy and Completion (CO) that generally states that the project was completed as the city expects and meets our minimum safety laws. This is usually about a year after construction is completed due to runoff prevention (grass) not growing at the time. We then digitally scan the plans for backup on our server, and place the paper document into physical archive (annoyingly Missouri's retention policy only accepts paper or microfiche).

A section of building plan archive. A section of the archive for storing construction documents.

The City only holds house blueprints for 8 years after CO (three years longer than the state requires) per our legal counselor. For commercial, we hold all construction documents for the lifetime of the structure though the State only requires the City to hold the documents for ten years after the CO. Missouri document retention policy (GS099). Therefore we have commercial documents that date to the start the twentieth century, though admittedly, lack procedure in the past as resulted in holes in our archive.

We have the archive of data and it is public record. Anyone could ask to see the blueprint of any structure within the city. Though we make record of the person asking and do not let them take the record form the archive room.

Our police department asks for building documents several times of year when they are planning a response or practicing. They also look at photos from code enforcement, as we may have physically been in a structure and can provide more detail. I also spent about a month creating building footprints from high-res orthophotography that PD was interested in using for response planning. Additionally, using GIS it is possible to link a footprint feature to the construction document for easy retrieval (though as the City, we are not quite there yet).

An example: A couple weeks ago there was drug bust in a structure that I had visited about nine month prior for building violations. The SERT team has the ability to request documents from my department to plan their actions against the occupants. Because the structure in question was built in the 1920s there was not a blueprint but only the recent visit by me for structural violations with photographs some of the internal layout.

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Even if local code requires the availability of building plans it might still lack the interior design plan.

In some places interior design changes doesn't require new permits or submission of plans, interior design usually includes interior, non load bearing, walls, doors, internal staircases and in some cases even external windows.

So it is critical to have the latest plans if you are planning to storm a building but like @Brian Knoblauch wrote- good luck finding those.

Using the Sweden example above this says: "Du behöver inte bygglov för att ändra rumsindelningen eller göra någon annan inre ändring"

translated by google to

"You do not need planning permission to change the room layout or make some other internal changes"

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