Rockland County officials used a new interactive mapping tool to expedite emergency response during Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath. The tool, which provides a map-based common operating picture, enabled county, local and state highway, fire, police, utility, the Red Cross and other emergency personnel to record and share information on road obstructions and closures as events unfolded.
The county, hardest hit by tidal surges and winds that downed trees and power lines, used this information during the storm to organize, prioritize and direct crews in clearing major highways and roads and to route emergency vehicles and evacuations. After the storm, updated information on changing road conditions was critical to restoring power, managing cleanup and re-opening schools and businesses. The mapping tool was deveoped by Sewall.
Time is critical during major storms and efforts focus on collecting, compiling and verifying information from the field. But county officials said the new tool expedited the emergency response.
"This time, field staff familiar with the situation entered precise data directly on the Internet map, Emergency Operations Center staff received accurate information immediately, and dispatch staff could view it at other locations," said Douglas Schuetz, Rockland County GIS director. "We were able to provide reports to local and state-level stakeholders several times a day, to monitor fast changing conditions, and to direct emergency crews more efficiently and effectively."
The county took proactive steps to improve emergency preparedness last year in the wake of Hurricane Irene and the late October blizzard. Rockland secured funding from the Department of Homeland Security to commission Sewall to develop a real time tool based on its need for information. Sewall proposed a an enhancement to the existing online emergency GIS application and delivered a beta version for training local police and highway department staff in advance of Sandy. Designed to be efficient to use and easy to learn, the tool was tested before the storm hit and used with success throughout and after the storm.
“The interactive website was a tremendous tool that assisted emergency response agencies, including utility companies, in responding to incidents throughout Hurricane Sandy,” said Christopher Jensen, program coordinator for the Rockland County Office of Fire & Emergency Services. “The information collected also played a significant role in implementing recovery efforts by local, county, state and federal agencies.”
According to County Deputy Superintendent of Highways Andrew M. Connors, PE, “Real time mapping proved invaluable as the County Highway Department worked to clear the downed trees after the storm. We were able to locate all work sites quickly, allowing for immediate dispatch of labor and equipment to open our roads to traffic."