Police and firefighters discover the power of GIS during search and rescue exercise at Princess Place Preserve

The exercise was based on a simple but destructive scenario: A tornado had ravaged an area of ​​50 acres, demolishing some houses, damaging others and leading to the disappearance of a 5-year-old boy, although participants were unaware that someone was missing until they found the damaged house.

Flagler County Fire Department staff joined Flagler County Sheriff’s Assistants, Flagler County Emergency Management, and County IT and GIS teams this morning and mid-afternoon at Princess Place Preserve for the first joint exercise in over half a decade. Up to 75 participants were involved at all levels, according to Jonathan Lord of Emergency Management.

The search and rescue exercise had a particular objective: to learn how to use Quick Capture, an ESRI application developed for first responders by GIS (geographic information system) experts to allow responders to map and communicate in time. real emergencies, from rescue events to tornadoes and hurricane damage. They can do this from their phones and in a coordinated fashion that gives everyone involved in the effort access to the same data, no matter which agency they come from. The data could be generated by law enforcement in the field, firefighters or drones, as is the case today. It can be shared between jurisdictions or agencies, so if, for example, Flagler responders are deployed to another state as part of a self-help mission – as happens frequently – they can log into the app. and be on essentially the same wavelength as everyone else in the area, assuming the agencies there are using it.

Mapping of the incident: the trajectory of the tornado is this reddish line.  (© FlaglerLive)
Mapping of the incident: the trajectory of the tornado is this reddish line. Various badges indicate fires, structural destruction, etc. (© FlaglerLive)

So far, stakeholders have relied heavily on computer-assisted dispatch, or CAD, the communication system that runs through a community’s 911 center and gives every worker in the field access to the same summary. of the response to an incident, on electronic devices, in real time. But CAD has its limits: it doesn’t allow imaging or video, and doesn’t interface with GIS systems – at least not outside the 911 center, where GIS plays an important role – which immediately map out locations or addresses.

The app amplifies other remote capabilities: “I could go online today and see, wow, we have a problem in Bay County. I wonder if there is anything we can do to help, ”said Darlene Pardiny, county GIS manager, who played a central role in Exercise Princess Place. “And I do this all the time. I’m sending an email, I’ll find out who the GIS manager is there. I’ll be like, hey, you need all i got from here. We have helped with forest fires for the past few years. We helped with the Michigan flooding. But I do not leave my office.

In early 2020, the app was used at Waterfront Park in Palm Coast to search for a missing biker (who has not been found). MPs used the app to follow live every location they searched, letting them know why not to return – and allowing authorities to show the victim’s family evidence of the thoroughness of research. “So when the sheriff’s office went back to the family and said we couldn’t find anything, they could confidently say it and show them: this is where we searched,” Pardiny said.

missing person
The missing person, a 5-year-old boy, has been mapped on a printed map. (© FlaglerLive)

As she spoke, those involved in today’s exercise deployed to the field and conducted a tornado damage assessment. (As in all exercises, a dose of imagination was needed. Princess Place was the place, but the idea was to imagine a slightly more inhabited environment. The ground had been prepared in advance, with existing structures. or even trees marked for exercise, so responders could react to and report what they saw.In the first moments of the exercise, responders could not know more than a tornado had devastated. The 911 center has received more than 50 calls. Dozens of people need medical attention. Some houses are completely destroyed, others damaged. Two elderly people may have suffered strokes. There are fires electrical, gas leaks, power cuts.

Periodically, there is a so-called “inject” in the exercise, a kind of curved ball to which the responders must react: a residential house has collapsed, the structure of an apartment is slightly damaged, a other suffered a total roof collapse, but no. the victims are located. Then another “inject”: a little boy has disappeared. At this point, the research component kicks in. Meanwhile, all damaged structures and other items encountered by responders are documented and turned into visual data, which, even then, someone like Todd Largacci, the GIS supervisor at the Flagler County real estate appraiser’s office – which was part of the exercise – could begin to analyze. Responders can also document “human interactions” – who is evacuated, how, what may be required to perform an evacuation, and so on. “Everyone brings something different to the table,” Pardiny said.

The role of each stakeholder is narrowly defined to maximize efficiency: “So dropping a point,” Pardiny said, using the terminology of a geographic point connected by a stakeholder at some point in the mission, “ by attaching a photo, the incident command gets it, they open it, yes: you can’t send just anyone. We have to find something else. So when they deploy a resource, they deploy the right resource the first time around, and then the person doing that pass keeps on leaving. They don’t stop to help because they are not equipped to help. Nikki North, the Sheriff’s Real-Time Crime Center supervisor, was part of the incident command center.

Live images of two drones were also scheduled to be part of the exercise (the county has a squadron of 11 drones in all.) TJ Lyon of the Florida Fire Chief’s Association, who is among those who developed the app. and was in the exercise, showed a map of the data generated by the app during Hurricane Michael in the Panhandle – a map covered with a mosaic of color-coded identification points, each with its own oars of reported data. The Princess Place exercise was expected to generate a similar, albeit on a smaller scale, map by mid-afternoon when the missing boy was likely found and the teams returned for a debriefing.

“These are the tools that we have to use with different people trained and using these tools,” Flagler emergency management chief Jonathan Lord said just before the start of the exercise. “It doesn’t matter what their badge says or what their uniform says at the end of the day. They can all come together and help our residents. And it’s very exciting. This is also a learning event, as some people are using some of the tools for the first time. But now is the time to prove that we can coordinate and do things as a team. (The Palm Coast Fire Department has not sent firefighters, but all of its firefighters have already been trained in the use of Quick Capture.)

“Every deputy is trained in emergency response training,” Sheriff Rick Staly said. “But then we have a specific team, it is their collateral mission. We do not have full-time functions as do the large metropolitan regions. It is therefore a targeted training with all the different disciplines that you see here on how we interact, how we communicate. Because you want to do this training before a tornado passes, before the hurricane hits and be ready. ”

The last joint exercises organized by law enforcement, fire and emergency management in Flagler County date back to 2014 and 2015, when then chief of emergency management Kevin Guthrie led an exercise. mass test to test the capabilities of the hospital and the sheriff’s office conducted a simulated active fire. at Flagler Palm Coast High School.

Damage from Hurricane Michael, mapped through the app.  (© FlaglerLive)
Hurricane Michael damage, as mapped by app responders trained today. (© FlaglerLive)

Brandon D. James