PreparednessDisaster Preparedness in the Palm of Your Hand

Published 21 October 2020

Natural disasters like tornadoes and earthquakes can devastate communities and bring uncertainty in their aftermath when it comes to safely accessing buildings or homes. When an EF-3 tornado struck Jefferson City, Missouri, in May 2019, it killed three people and left over 600 buildings damaged, presenting first responders with an overwhelming response challenge.In tragic situations like this, facility owners and emergency planners play a key role in taking swift action to evaluate the damage done.

Natural disasters like tornadoes and earthquakes can devastate communities and bring uncertainty in their aftermath when it comes to safely accessing buildings or homes. When an EF-3 tornado struck Jefferson City, Missouri, in May 2019, it killed three people and left over 600 buildings damaged, presenting first responders with an overwhelming response challenge. In tragic situations like this, facility owners and emergency planners play a key role in taking swift action to evaluate the damage done. 

“Prior to the chaos of a disaster, it’s imperative that emergency planners and building owners understand the status of their communities’ facilities,” said Department of Homeland Security (DHSScience and Technology Directorate (S&T) Program Manager Ron Langhelm. “Post-disaster, they need to have tools that can give them a clear picture of the damage, so they know how to address it.”

This year, during National Preparedness Month in September, S&T highlighted several technologies designed to help with disaster preparation, response, and recovery efforts. But the conversation shouldn’t end just because September did. We’re going to continue on sharing resources, some of which fit right in the palm of your hand.

“This is a great opportunity to continue thinking about how your community is planning for the future and whether you have the necessary tools to respond,” said Langhelm. “Through joint investments, S&T has been able to deploy preparedness and response tools to many localities for front-line use. Our hope, along with that of our partners, is that communities use and help us improve these tools.”

For instance, Langhelm has led S&T’s efforts to work with the Central United States Earthquake Consortium (CUSEC) to enhance two GIS-based apps used for pre- and post-disaster assessment: the Rapid Visual Screening (RVS) and Building Safety Assessment (BSA) apps. These tools adapted paper processes into a mobile format to deliver data quickly and easily to a wide array of stakeholders who need access in advance or in the wake of a disaster. CUSEC developed early iterations of the BSA and RVS apps with funding from FEMA’s National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) and the Delta Regional Authority. Through S&T’s support, CUSEC was able to significantly enhance the apps and make them deployable on a national scale. Both of the apps are free and available for use via the S&T-supported Regional Information Sharing Platform.

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