Peering out from behind my faceshield standing beneath a windbreak of cruelly butchered trees, I looked up fifteen feet and spotted a large come-along hanging next to a nice sweater. At my feet in every direction was a swirled and twisted mass of homes which, beginning today, would be hauled away to “who knows where” leaving only an abandoned, marred, oddly eery concrete pad mirroring the look of the tortured families left behind, left bewildered. On Friday, May 24th, I arrived in Moore, Oklahoma with a small group of men, chainsaws, and Bobcats to console those families who had lost most or all of their possessions a few days earlier in one of the most powerful tornadoes yet seen in America. The devastation was extensive and difficult to comprehend. Whole neighborhoods had been instantly obliterated, leaving a scared earth littered with splintered wood and pulverized cars mashed into tangled masses of earthly possessions. The loss of lives and property were heart-breaking. I was reminded how nature knows no morality.
Hope & Community
As heart-breaking was the destruction, it was tremendously encouraging to see thousands of volunteers scurrying all over Moore and neighboring Shawnee. They were there to help in any way they could. Our small band of brothers was from Iowa, but there were many others there from all over the country. A tremendous force of goodwill spontaneously marshaled to counter the devastating fury of the tornado. Some were wielding muscles and chainsaws like us; while others distributed water, rakes, and shovels; and still others cooked anything available inside hastily erected tents serving free food to keep everyone going. It was a spontaneous symphony of assistance restoring a silent rhythm to the loud and chaotic acid rock scene.
I was happy to be there. The hard work and many opportunities to stop and console residents was rewarding. But by the time I left three days later, I felt as if I had not contributed as effectively as I could have. As a geospatial professional I had training, equipment, know-how, and the resources of a geospatial company which went entirely untapped. We understand that the “map” is the canvas of everything. Maps are the conveyors of incredibly meaningful solutions. I had prepared informative offline maps before we left. They went unused. They weren’t interactive. They weren’t in the hands and on the phones and tablets of the insurance agents, emergency personnel, relief workers, and city/county government personnel that could truly benefit from them. I left seeking answers to several questions:
- How can an equipped, geospatial professional (& organization) more fully contribute to recovery from a disaster?
- How do I make known to the right people the geospatial skills, resources, and solutions available so they can be exploited to maximal effect?
- Why, it seems, were few (if any?) emergency responders, police, insurance, and other professionals using interactive mapping technologies in the field?
Utilizing Technology & Connections
Today the phones and tablets carried in our pockets can provide rich interactive base maps without any live network or phone connection. These technologies are inexpensive and could be tremendous assets throughout a disaster and recovery by consolidating to a living map, in near real-time, valuable information about people, property, and damage. This information is then immediately accessible to anyone. This same information would be even more valuable after the initial event as insurance and government personnel estimate the scope of damage and plan long-term recovery efforts. Aerial Services will be working to more effectively aid those in need and will be ready to assist with new solutions. The trick will be to find the right people who can benefit from it and get them using it on their phones and tablets as they navigate through piles of rubble and mud to assist others.
Moore, Oklahoma Tornado Background
On May 20-21, 2013 much of Moore (population 56,000) and Shawnee (population 30,000), Oklahoma was reduced to mounds of chaotic, twisted waste after tornadoes hit the area. The Moore tornado was an EF-5 and one of the strongest on record. It was on the ground for 40 minutes that afternoon and left debris scar 17 miles long and 1.3 miles wide.
Upwards of 13,000 structures were damaged or destroyed; 24 lives were lost; 33,000 lives were impacted. Some professionals estimate the volume of debris could be 1.5 million cubic yards. This much debris would cover an NBA-sized basketball court to a depth of 1.7 miles. Economic damage estimates today range from $2 billion – $5 billion. Serious flooding also accompanied these storms over much of the Oklahoma City area after a deluge of 8-11” of rain. The scope of services disrupted by this type of severe weather included electrical transmission, communication, travel on roads, hospitals, schools, businesses, and emergency services.