Using GIS to Assist in Recent Illinois Tornado – Related Emergency Response

Recently in Illinois several communities unfortunately experienced extensive tornado damage. And over the last week I've seen several GIS-related efforts set up to offer information that could be helpful to those working to recover and rebuild. Below are a few quick summaries of these efforts:


According to their website, OpenStreetMap is "a free, editable map of the whole world. Unlike proprietary datasets like Google Map Maker, the OpenStreetMap license allows free access to the full map dataset." So basically, this online map and the related data are available to anyone and can be edited by anyone. It's been useful over the last few years in helping communities experiencing disasters. One of my favorite examples of how this has been implemented is the assistance that was offered after the Haiti earthquake a few years ago. If interested, you can check out a video showing the timelapse of the OpenStreetMap edits for the Haiti effort here: OpenStreetMap Project Haiti

Last weekend, one of the cities in Illinois that experienced the most damage was Washington, Ill. Soon after relief efforts began, I noticed Dave Smith, a GIS professional from the Washington, DC, area had started an effort to map all the structures in Washington, Ill., on OpenStreetMap. Over the last week a number of people assisted him in this effort. At this point a good portion of the buildings have been mapped with only a few more areas left to be done. I embedded a view of the Washington, Ill., area of the map below. As you move around and zoom in keep in mind before Dave started this effort, there were no structures mapped in this city. You can see how much was done in just one week by volunteers from all over the world. The benefit of this map is that now, anyone can freely use this map and the information created by only properly citing the credit as indicated on the OpenStreetMap site:


Online Mapping of Damage

Today, Roger Diercks, another GIS professional I know who works in Illinois, posted a note in the local GIS user group about a mapping effort by Cloudpoint Geographics that shows the comparison between pre and post tornado. You can visit their map here: Post 11/17/2013 'Washington' Tornado Imagery

He also posted a link to a map set up by the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission showing the devastation and the path of the tornado. You can visit that map here: November 17, 2013 Tornado – Pekin/East Peoria/Washington


Using GIS to Prepare for a Disaster

All of these examples show what can be done online within a short amount of time to assist with emergency response. These mapping tools used in conjunction with hand held devices can allow emergency responders and inspectors to access maps real time and even provide edits of their own. And this can be critical for response efforts. One of the main issues I hear at emergency response training is that it can be difficult to orient yourself after a disaster if damage is extensive. People visiting sites that no longer have familiar landmarks, homes, or street signs can be left wondering where they are. So having access to online maps can help to improve response times and provide for a more successful overall rescue, assessment, and rebuilding. Of course, having as much mapped as possible prior to a disaster can make it that much easier. One idea for doing this is to involve the community or school using a map like OpenStreetMap. Perhaps during September which is National Preparedness Month, agencies can sponsor Map Days and encourage schools and citizens to edit the OpenStreetMap adding important information like homes, schools, parks, commercial structures, parking facilities, hospitals, shelters, addresses and any other information that might be helpful should the community experience a disaster. 



City of Cleveland Division of Water Requesting Help

Below is an urgent request for assistance from the City of Cleveland Division of Water. If you can help, contact information is provided in their message:


The City of Cleveland Division of Water is in urgent need of two 24” Victaulics couplings.  We have contacted Victaulic but have been informed it will take about a week before we can get them.  We have had a failure on a 24” main coming out of one of our treatment plants that is affecting our entire First High pressure district..  We have implemented a workaround feed to temporarily supply the area but are not certain how well this will work – reverse flow, different pressures, etc.

Does anyone have two of these: 24" Victaulic cplg style 44 with E gasket, plated bolts and shop primer coated   Part number C240044PE0.  If someone does, we would need to talk with them on further details, as well as make arrangement to pick them up.  They would get the new ones as soon as received.   Please feel free to contact me with any questions.  I can be reached at the below number until 4:30 pm, and at 216-374-7044 anytime.  You can also reach Kim Thompson, our Chief of Distribution at 216-348-7277 x 3405 or by cell at 216-857-7535.  I have copied him as well as our WARN representative, Payton Hall.

Thank you for your assistance


Melinda L. Raimann

Administrative Manager
Distribution & Maintenance
Cleveland Division of Water
216-664-2444 x 5638
216-348-7292 (fax)


Using Social Media to Communicate Emergency Response


Yesterday Dave Lawry and I presented Using Social Media to Communicate Emergency Response at the 2013 APWA North Amercian Snow Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was fun to give the presentation with Dave because he had some interesting first-hand experiences with implementing social media as a communication tool, particularly during snow operations. His stories came from when he was serving as the Director of Public Works for the city of Elgin in Ill. – some of what they had done has been covered by this blog over the years.

APWA North American Snow Conference Session

About a year or so ago, Dave moved on to take a position with Chastain and Associates. But even though he is no longer with a city, he continues to encourage and help others in local government with figuring out how best to implement the use of social media. Today Dave led a roundtable discussion at the conference to further explore the topic and share thoughts. He sent me an email and said, "The followup round table was well attended today with two from the class yesterday wishing to continue the discussion. My table was full." Even though I would have liked to attend, I had to return to Illinois because of other commitments so missed the discussion, but I am sure based on the questions we got yesterday it was helpful and informative.

Fortunately I'll be able to work again with Dave in the Fall when we discuss Social Media and Public Works at the 12th Annual Public Service Institute on Oct. 8, 2013, in Effingham, Ill. Our presentation will be given as part of IPSI – a leadership and management program held each year for one week in Illinois. The entire program, which focuses primarily on public works, spans a three-year time period. Last year was my first year of training, and I plan to return this year not only to help Dave with the social media session, but also to go for my second year as a student. As anyone who has attended will tell you, the highlights of the program are Lewis and Mary Bender – the two incredible people who are responsible for organizing and hosting the whole event. Lew also teaches most of the sessions. If you haven't gone yet, I highly recommend you consider going. Just meeting Lew and being able to learn from his years of wisdom makes it all worth it by itself. But the added benefit is you'll also be able to network with and learn from other public works people from all over Illinois. It's really one of the few training opportunities we have for learning how to manage in the unique setting in which we all work. And I'm sure as part of our session at IPSI, Dave and I will be able to further explore the use of social media as a communication tool during emergencies. (Note that I am no longer with the employer shown on the schedule – I've since accepted a position with another governmental agency.)

But for now, you can view the presentation we gave yesterday here:



Attending the Emergency Management Institute

Last year a neighboring community applied for a grant to attend a week-long class – E930: Community Specific Integrated Emergency Management Course – at the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) in Emmitsburg, Maryland. After hearing they received the grant, they invited other agencies to attend with them. Fortunately I was one of the people invited and attended the class last July with a group of about 60 people from at least five local governments, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and our local 911 center staff. I was so impressed by the facility that I figured I would share my experience so that others can find out about this amazing training opportunity and take advantage of it themselves.

Emergency Mgmt Institute 2012 (6)

Fortunately for our group, the grant paid for almost all the travel and training expenses. We left on a Sunday and flew to Washington, D.C. Then we were picked up and driven by bus to the campus. EMI is located about an hour away from Washington, D.C., on the campus of the former St. Joseph College. The property was purchased by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 1979 to serve as the National Emergency Training Center (NETC). EMI is located on this campus along with the United States Fire Administration (USFA) and the National Fire Academy (NFA).

Emergency Mgmt Institute 2012 (2)

One of the greatest resources I discovered on the campus is the NETC Learning Resource Center or the library (see photo below). It's a great national treasure of emergency response information that I don't think many people know about. While I was on campus, I had the chance to spend a couple nights reading through several books on local government planning, emergency response, and the history of specific disasters. The good news is that you don't even have to go to EMI to access all their resources. The people there explained to me that anyone can request these publications by going to their own community library and asking to check them out through an interlibrary loan. To find what they have on a specific topic, you can use their WorldCat search tool. For example, I typed in chicago fire and found they have 526 publications related to that disaster. They also told me that they can perform research for you if you need to collect all the information related to a specific disaster.

NETC Learning Resource Center at EMI

Another interesting aspect of training at the EMI is that you stay on campus in their dormitories throughout your course. Of course, it's not the Hilton, but the rooms are very nice and comfortable and clean. There are public areas throughout the residential buildings where students can meet and hang out. Students are also provided all three meals at a cafeteria on campus. But the building and food is not what you would normally think of when you hear the word cafeteria. Instead, we ate in a spacious room with wood-paneled doors and accents and large wood tables (see photo at end of this post). And the food was always very good with a wide selection of all the food groups at each meal. But if students got tired of eating with everyone each night, they could also choose to walk into the town of Emmitsburg to eat at one of the restaurants there. EMI also had a building on campus with a bar and recreational activities like pool. They also provide bicycles, and unfortunately for me, I didn't realize until my last night there they also provide fishing poles and tackle for anyone who wants to fish in the nearby creek shown in the photo below. If students want to work out, there is another building on campus with a swimming pool, exercise room, and running track.

EMI 20120709 (37)

The specific class we attended was a type of course customized for the community receiving the grant. It was a combination of in-class instruction and hands-on simulation. The first day included an introduction then a quick background on ICS and the EOC. I imagine that most people coming to these classes are already familiar with these concepts since most of us are required to take the classes introducing these concepts. The rest of the day included classes about public information and warning, management of an emergency program, fire services, and law enforcement. We ended that day with a short exercise.

The next day included classes about medical services during an emergency, management of the EOC, policy level decision making, and public works. That day also concluded with an exercise. 

On the third day we had a great talk from Dr. Jeff Lating about stress management. This was followed up by mass care information and damage assessments. Then we worked on another exercise in preparation for the final day where we would simulate handling an actual disaster.

Finally on the last day, we started with a quick talk about documentation and then began our exercise. We had been split up into groups with some of us in different sections of the EOC such as logistics and planning and operations and others in a policy group. The simulated disaster was a tornado that hit during a major event although micro-disasters were launched at us throughout the simulation such as sewage overflows, water main breaks, active shooters, accidents, and visits from high-ranking elected officials. 

After a full week of classes and learning, we finished up with a cook-out and left on Friday to return home. One of the benefits of training in this manner is that it allows everyone who normally works together in an agency to get away from the office and distractions and focus on what they need to learn. It also helps build relationships and understanding between participants which can be critical to sustaining staff performance during times of a disaster when they might be faced by sometimes overwhelming demands and stress.

The bottom line on EMI training is that it was one of the best courses I have ever taken. I was exposed to knowledge from industry experts who have experienced and managed disasters all over the country. The facility was excellent, well-run, and comfortable. And the cost was definitely affordable with the main cost to my employer being my time away. The EMI training is definitely a national resource that local agencies and emergency response personnel should take advantage of. Make sure to check out their course selections and subscribe to their feed to get any updates. And if anyone out there has already attended a class at EMI, I'd be interested in hearing your own thoughts and experiences.

Dining Room at EMI



Hurricane: Preparedness and Response Training

Emergency Mgmt Institute 2012

There's a little known secret out there among emergency professionals – FEMA has an awesome training facility in Emmitsburg, Maryland where public works professionals working in local government can get free, high-quality emergency response training. In July of this year, I was fortunate enough to attend a week of training there and plan to share my experience at some point over the next week or so. But for now, I wanted to pass along a notice about an upcoming course to be held at that facility. This particular class will provide Preparedness and Response Training for Hurricanes. So if you get the chance, it is definitely worthwhile to attend or if you can't make it, send someone from your staff. Here are the details:


FEMA Emergency Management Institute

E905 – Integrated Emergency Management Course (IEMC):

Hurricane: Preparedness and Response

Course Date: 11 – 14 Feb, 2013

Course Description:

This IEMC addresses preparedness and response in emergency situations resulting from a hurricane. This exercise-based course is conducted for participants from communities throughout the country. The IEMC places public officials and other key community leaders in a disaster simulation. The course methodologies of classroom instruction, planning sessions, and exercises allow for structured decision making in an educational, yet realistic, environment. A key outcome of this IEMC is that additional planning needs are identified, providing the opportunity to enhance overall preparedness. The exercise scenario for IEMC: Hurricane Preparedness and Response focuses on evacuation issues prior to the simulated hurricane making landfall and response activities after landfall.

Target Audience:

The target audience for this course includes Emergency Operations Center (EOC) management personnel.  EOC management personnel include, but are not limited to, mayors, city/county managers, general counsel, community/county managers, emergency managers, fire/police/public safety chiefs, public works and public health managers, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) managers, community services providers, Private Industry, National Guard Members, and key EOC support staff.


National Emergency Training Center (NETC),  Emergency Management Institute,

Emmitsburg, Maryland.


To Apply:

Complete a FEMA Form 119-25-1, General Admissions Application (  ) with a student signature and signature of supervisor or sponsoring agency official.  Submit the application through the State emergency management training office who will fax it to the NETC Admissions office at (301) 447-1658.

There are no tuition fees for EMI on-campus or off-site courses. All instruction, course materials, and housing (for most participants) are provided at no cost. Participants from other countries, other Federal agencies, and most participants from private industry or contractors to State, local, or Tribal governments must pay their own transportation and lodging fees. All participants are responsible for the cost of cafe­teria meals provided and for personal, incidental expenses.

For additional information contact Doug Kahn,  or