After the storm hits is when the chaos really begins. So Broward's Emergency Operations Center now has a new tool to bring order to that chaos, and it's in your cell phone.
"After Hurricane Andrew, we didn't know for days where the heavily damaged areas were. This way, I foresee us knowing within an hour," said Chuck Lanza, Broward's Emergency Director.
Lanza is touting a new system which went on-line Wednesday morning. Here's how it works: go to the county's website, Broward.org/hurricane, bookmark it, and then when a storm hits, click the shortcut on your phone. Four pictures will come up, each one symbolizing a level of damage ranging from minimal to destroyed. Go outside and see which of the four damage categories matches your property.
"So what we would ask people to do is to click on the one picture that most resembles their house, a simple click," Lanza said as he demonstrated the system on an iPhone. "Don't even have to put up the address, the web-enabled phones have the ability to get the GPS coordinates right off the phone and send them to us with the picture."
So think of the implications: In just a few seconds, emergency management officials will know how bad the damage is at your house, and therefore, your neighborhood. Instead of waiting days for help from the county after a storm, help is on the way much sooner, whether you need search and rescue or just a blue tarp for minor roof damage.
Lanza realizes some cell towers wil fail during a big hurricane, but he's counting on enough cell service surviving to at least get a representative a sample from around the county, so his team will have a good idea what the damage picture looks like and which areas need the most resources. Besides the four house damage pictures, the system also has a button to gauge flood damage. It would've come in handy during last December's epic flooding in Hallandale Beach, said Lt. James Phelps. The firefighter was on duty that night.
"Anytime you get information early on in the incident you have a better idea how to handle it," Phelps says. "We would get people started, more resources coming in to those who needed them, quicker."
Phelps' colleague at Hallandale Beach Fire-Rescue, Yvonne Feijoo, was just getting off work that night when the flooding started. She rushed to help the tennants at the apartment building her family owns, and couldn't believe what she saw.
"Some of the units were flooded up to three feet of water, but it definitely would've helped to send that quick message that the area's being affected so severely because the whole block was flooded," Feijoo said.
The key now, said Lanza, is making sure the public is aware the new system exists. It won't do much good if people don't use it. If they do, there's also another benefit: it will free up personell.
"It keeps our police and fire fighters doing police and fire work, they're the ones initially doing damage assessment, so now they can get the community involved," Lanza said.
Now let's hope the new system doesn't have to be used this hurricane season.