Cops and firefighters discover the power of GIS in search and rescue exercises at Princess Place Preserve

The exercise was based on a simple but destructive scenario: a tornado ripped through a 50-acre area, demolishing some homes, damaging others and killing a 5-year-old boy, although participants were unaware that someone was missing until they discovered the damaged house.

Flagler County Fire Rescue personnel joined Flagler County Sheriff’s Deputies, 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 more than 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 enable 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 way, allowing everyone involved in the effort to access the same data, regardless of which agency they are from. The data could be generated by field law enforcement, firefighters, or drones, as was the case today. It can be shared between jurisdictions or agencies, so if, for example, Flagler responders are deployed to another state on a mutual aid mission – as frequently happens – they can log into the app and be essentially on the same wavelength as everyone else in the area, assuming the agencies there are using it.

Map the incident: the path of the tornado is this reddish line.  (© FlaglerLive)
Map the incident: the path of the tornado is this reddish line. Various insignia indicate fires, structural destruction, etc. (© FlaglerLive)

Until now, responders have relied heavily on computer-aided dispatch, or CAD, the communication system that runs through a community’s 911 center and gives every responder in the field access to the same incident response, on electronic devices, in real time. time. But CAD has its limitations: it does not allow imagery or video, nor interface with GIS systems (at least not outside of the 911 center, where GIS plays an important role) that immediately map locations or the addresses.

The app amplifies other remote capabilities: “I could log in today and see, wow, we have a problem in Bay County. I wonder if we can do anything to help,” said Darlene Pardiny, county GIS manager, who played a central role in the Princess Place exercise. “And I do that all the time. I send an e-mail, I will find out who the GIS manager is. I’ll say, Hey, you need everything I got from here. We have helped with forest fires in recent years. We helped with flooding in Michigan. But I don’t leave my office.

In early 2020, the app was used at Waterfront Park in Palm Coast in the search for a missing biker (who has not been found). Deputies used the app to live-track each location they searched, letting them know which grounds not to revisit and allowing authorities to show the victim’s family evidence of the thoroughness of the research. “So when the sheriff’s office went back to the family and said we didn’t find anything, they could confidently say that and show them: this is where we looked,” Pardiny said.

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

As she spoke, responders involved in today’s exercise were fanning out on the ground and conducting a tornado damage assessment. (As in all exercises, a dose of imagination was required. Princess Place was the location, but the idea was to imagine a slightly more lived-in environment. The ground had been prepared in advance, with existing structures or even tagged trees for the exercise, so that responders could react to and report on what they saw.In the first moments of the exercise, responders could not know more than the passing of tornado The 911 center received more than 50 calls Dozens of people need medical attention Some houses completely destroyed, others damaged Two elderly people may have suffered strokes There are electrical fires, gas leaks, power outages.

Periodically, there is a so-called “injection” in the exercise, a sort of curveball to which responders must react: a residential house has collapsed, an apartment structure is slightly damaged, another has had a total roof collapse, but no victims are located. Then another “inject”: A little boy has disappeared. At this point, the research component comes into play. During this time, all damaged structures and other items encountered by responders are documented and transformed into visual data, which even then someone like Todd Largacci — the GIS supervisor from the Flagler County Real Estate Appraiser’s office — who was part of the exercise — could begin analyzing. Responders can also document “human interactions”: who is being evacuated, how, what may be needed to effect an evacuation, etc. “Everyone brings something different to the table,” Pardiny said.

The role of each responder is tightly defined to maximize efficiency: “So dropping a point,” Pardiny said, using the terminology of a geographic point recorded by a responder at a given point in the mission, ” attaching a photo, the incident command gets it, they open it, yes: we can’t send anyone, we have to find something else, so when they deploy an asset, they deploy the right one resource the first time and then that person doing that pass just keeps going. They don’t stop to help because they’re not equipped to help. Nikki North, the Sheriff’s Real Time Crime Center supervisor, was doing part of the people present at the incident command center.

Live footage from two drones was 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 data generated by the app during Hurricane Michael in the Panhandle – a map overlaid with a mosaic of color-coded identification points, each with its own reams of data reported . The Princess Place exercise was expected to generate a similar, albeit smaller-scale, map mid-afternoon when the missing boy was likely found and the teams returned for a debriefing.

“Those are the tools we have to use it with different people trained and using those tools,” Flagler’s chief emergency officer, Jonathan Lord, said just before the exercise began. “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. It is also a learning event, as some people are using some of the tools for the first time. But it’s time to prove that we can coordinate and do things as a team. (The Palm Coast Fire Department did not send firefighters, but all of its firefighters were trained in the use of Quick Capture before.)

“Every deputy is trained in emergency response training,” Sheriff Rick Staly said. “But then we have a specific team, that’s their collateral mission. We don’t have full-time functions like major metropolitan areas. And so it’s targeted training with all the different disciplines that you see here on how we interact, how we communicate. Because you want to do this workout before a tornado hits, before a hurricane hits and be prepared.

The last times Flagler County law enforcement, fire and emergency management held joint drills was in 2014 and 2015, when then-chief emergency management Kevin Guthrie, led a mass exercise to test the hospital’s capabilities and that the sheriff’s office led an active shooter simulation. at Flagler Palm Coast High School.

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

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