EMA directors considering tech solution for navigation

TRIADELPHIA – Gaining access to maps of roads, bridges and hospitals during a disaster may become quicker and easier if local emergency managers decide to use cloud technology.

Emergency managers from Northern Panhandle counties gathered Wednesday to hear a presentation about such software from a California-based company named Esri. The meeting was held at the West Liberty University Highlands Center.

Lou Vargo, Wheeling-Ohio County Emergency Management Agency director, said the virtual technology would allow users to share maps marked with information, such as road closures or spills, that could be updated and accessed instantly by using a secure server, called a cloud.

It would eliminate the need for old methods of file sharing and downloading information and maps, which can sometimes take hours to achieve.

First responders could then be given access to that same information via an application on their smart phone, tablet, computer or a similar device.

Vargo said Ohio County has been using Esri’s software for about 12 years. He did not remember how much the software cost at that time. But Seth Van Aken, Esri regional sales manager, said depending on how the software will be used, it could cost a county government between $2,000 and $10,000. Vargo said the states of West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania all use Esri.

“If we get a new gas well permit we can update the map … It will go back into the cloud when we publish it. All the counties could see it,” Vargo said.

Mike Walker, West Virginia Homeland Security Region II area liaison, hopes emergency officials in Ohio communities use the same technology.

“The same language needs to be talked. … There’s not a wall at the Ohio River,” Walker said. “This could make it easier.”

Tyler County Office of Emergency Management Director Thomas Cooper believes first responders may use it on daily basis and become accustomed to it before a potential disaster strikes.

“If it’s easy to use then people shouldn’t need a lot of training,” Cooper said.

Attendees also included Tyler County Office of Emergency Management volunteer Don Collins; Dave Weaver, Ohio County’s geographic information system manager; Marshall County Office of Emergency Management Director Tom Hart and Deputy Director Mike Mucheck; and John Paul Jones, Hancock County Emergency Management agency director.