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Information iconA portion of the map of Orange, Texas, which was hit hard by Hurricane Harvey. Map by Josh O’Connor, USFWS.

Fish and Wildlife Service responders add technology to aid Hurricane Harvey response, bolster safety

Josh O’Connor, a fire specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Department of the Interior, wanted to help search-and-rescue teams in five Texas counties that were in Hurricane Harvey’s devastating path.

He had a powerful piece of technology that he had used to aid in fighting wildland fires that he believed could be adapted to help Texas emergency management responders speed their response activities and do it safely.

Combining publicly available geo-referenced PDF maps with the Avenza mobile application for smart phones and tablets, O’Connor created a way to inform searchers where they were on a flooded street, an inundated parking lot or submerged park. It can even tell responders what utility infrastructure is underneath them, and where other important infrastructure might be located that responders cannot see.

“We knew it could take 36 hours or more to get large printed maps to rescue teams and this technology would help them respond more quickly in real time,” O’Connor said. “With this tool we can produce maps in minutes and make them available to rescue teams in flooded areas to show them exactly where they are in terms of submerged roads, power lines, and more.

“Just being able to use this technology to support responders and give them the advantage of speed and safety that comes with information like this is important to us and the people that need them quickly.”

Service employees led by O’Connor and several of its best technology and mapping experts were able to produce maps for the cities of Port Arthur, Beaumont, and Orange, Texas, as well as Hardin, Jefferson, Liberty and Orange Counties there.

“This technology is an invaluable tool for everyone who is responding to our needs,” said Hardin County Judge Wayne McDaniel. “Not just our emergency services personnel, but also our public utility departments and others. I can’t say enough about how much we appreciate everything that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has done and continues to do with its people, technology and equipment to help us save lives.”

Greg Sheehan, the Service’s Principal Deputy Director, noted that Service employees will always pitch in when they can.

“I am extremely proud of the way our employees are aiding this vital response effort to help the people of southeast Texas,” Sheehan said. “The technology Josh O’Connor and our team are using to help speed response times and enhance safety for our responders is incredibly valuable.”

“With nearly 250 employees who live and work in many of these communities, this is just one example of the kinds of things our people are doing to support the extraordinary efforts of search-and-rescue teams, local law enforcement, firefighters, and the U.S. Coast Guard in their heroic efforts on the ground,” Sheehan added.

The maps can be downloaded here: fws.gov/southeast/our-services/fire/#hurricane-harvey-response. The Avenza app can be downloaded separately.

Contact

Jeff Fleming, 404-274-6693, Jeffrey_M_Fleming@fws.gov
Mark Davis, 404-556-7074, Mark_R_Davis@fws.gov

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit fws.gov. Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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