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James W. Sewall

 

Rockland County uses Sewall GIS tool to streamline response to Sandy. Common operating picture of road conditions key to emergency communications

Rockland County, New York, relied on a new interactive mapping tool developed by Sewall 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.  

Douglas Schuetz, Rockland County GIS Director, says, “During an event of this magnitude, time is of the essence. In the past we focused our efforts on collecting, compiling and verifying information from the field. 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. 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.  It’s a far superior way to do business and opens our eyes to what is possible.”  

The County took proactive steps to improve emergency preparedness last year. In the wake of Hurricane Irene and a rare October blizzard, County officials recognized they needed an efficient way to manage, share, analyze and respond to information on road blockages and closures in real time. With funding from the Department of Homeland Security, the County commissioned Sewall to develop a solution based on the identified needs and to prioritize those needs.  Sewall proposed a distributed data entry module as an enhancement to the County’s existing online emergency GIS application.

Sewall delivered a beta version to the County in time to train 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,” says 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 Andrew M. Connors, PE, Deputy Superintendent of Highways, “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. With situational awareness of the County's road network, we were able to direct our efforts to restore our infrastructure in a safe, timely and cost-effective way.”

About Rockland County: Rockland County is a diverse community located in southeastern New York, approximately 15 miles northwest of New York City. Residents, workers and employers enjoy safe, secure neighborhoods; outstanding schools, colleges and universities; access to excellent health care and human services; a mix of businesses, including health, retail, manufacturing, pharmaceutical, construction and research; and a wide range of recreational and cultural activities. Visit the web site at: rocklandgov.com

About Sewall: Founded in 1880, Sewall is an international professional consulting organization specializing in energy, infrastructure and natural resources. The company’s diverse portfolio is based on 132 years' experience in surveying, forest appraisal and civil engineering; 60 years' in aerial mapping; and 30 years' in GIS and application development. For information, please visit www.sewall.com or contact: Lisa Schoonmaker, at 207-827-4456; schl@sewall.com

 

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