FORT MYERS, Fla. - Wednesday marks ten years since Hurricane Charley hit Southwest Florida. The damage was massive and, assessing it all quickly was a mighty task.
A decade later, WINK News is learning how Lee County's damage assessment program has progressed from paper to PC.
When Hurricane Charley's category 4 winds calmed down, the damage settled. Homes were destroyed. Sand piled in the streets.
"One of the most important things we do after a disaster is determine how bad it really is out there," said Lee Mayfield, Lee County's Emergency Planning Manager.
Charley caused billions of dollars in losses. At the time, surveyors had to log the damage, property-by-property, with pen and paper. The problem was, thousands of those papers were coming in at once. If an address wasn't filled out completely, which many weren't, they'd have to be thrown out.
Fast forward to 2014. "We have all the property information, we have roads and as you zoom in, more information turns on," Amy Hoyt, Lee County's Geographic Information System Manager said.
Damage assessors are now trained to use ARM360 which stands for assess, report and map. It's all digital. "They might have building debris, something that has blown over and is blocking the road," Hoyt said, pointing to the map on the computer screen. "They would choose 'building debris,' come down to the map and click. It would put a point on there."
Police, EMS or fire districts can mark a map with incidents like "road damage" or, new this year "pet rescue." They can shoot and attach pictures to an individual property, knowing who owns it and how much it's worth. "We determine the damage level," Hoyt said. "Is it destroyed, major, minor, affected or no damage?"
"We are also able to pass that information on to the state and to FEMA," Mayfield said. "They can get their wheels turning quicker because we have the ability to collect this information very quickly."
The map is public, meaning evacuated homeowners can get answers they need. "They can actually use this website to see the damage on their house," Hoyt said.
Though emergency officials have not had to use ARM360 yet. They call it a game-changer. "It allows us to have all of that information in one location," Mayfield said. "In the past, we have had multiple ways of doing it, phone call, paper, napkins, everything in the world. Now, we have one database where we collect all that damage assessment information. We are able to see it pretty much in real time."
The county is hoping to make ARM360 compatible with iPads so those taking pictures of damage can capture the images and immediately upload them to the map. You can find Lee county's maps and apps page at: leegis.leegov.com/mapsandapps.