Terrebonne Parish, located in southern Louisiana along the Gulf of Mexico, possesses some of America’s largest, most productive wetlands and natural resources with numerous bayous, lakes and waterways, including the Intracoastal Waterway, as well as access to the Gulf. It is also one of the areas hardest hit by hurricanes and other natural disasters in recent years. Terrebonne’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (TOHSEP) works vigilantly to prepare for any disaster or crisis that might threaten its citizens.
In the face of catastrophic hurricane, tornado, flood and other events, TOHSEP provides preparation, evacuation, sheltering and recovery programs. Some of the most important and time-sensitive recovery efforts are the preliminary damage assessments performed by TOHSEP, often in conjunction with state and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) crews, as these surveys are the very first step to activating an array of federal programs to assist in the response and recovery efforts. Often performed as “walking” or “windshield” surveys completed from vehicles, they are rapid damage assessments on the critical path to state and federal resources. The speed of data collection and accuracy of reporting is paramount to the recovery effort itself. But in the wake of a disaster, the IT infrastructure and networks are often unavailable, or at least greatly compromised.
There is no doubt that emergency communications have been greatly enhanced by Internet and mobile technology, helping governments communicate instantly via web, Facebook and Twitter. But when it comes to catastrophic disasters, the network isn’t typically there when it’s needed most; and it certainly can’t be relied upon for all response and recovery efforts. That creates a bit of a paradox when it comes to leveraging the latest mobile technology in disaster response scenarios.