Virginia Beach Launches New Tool to Assist With Evacuations

Thursday, July 30, 2015

​Virginia Beach has created a tool that city officials hope they will never have to use: a system that will provide valuable information for citywide or neighborhood evacuations during emergency weather events.

“During emergencies, real-time data is not only necessary, it’s absolutely critical,” said Matt Arvay, the city’s chief information officer. “That’s why it was essential that we bring online a tool that provides our Emergency Operations Center with electronic mapping that is layered with GIS functionalities and live information feeds from multiple external sources.”

Prior to 2015, the city relied on paper maps at the Emergency Operations Center. During emergencies, officials would share printed maps among team members and manually red-line proposed changes. Identifying vulnerable populations was a separate fact-gathering effort and information was difficult to share. That has all changed.

The city’s Communications and Information Technology Department now employs ArcGIS Online, a new interactive method of presenting maps. Combined with the city’s powerful Geospatial Information Services, this new browser-based application provides the city’s emergency operations team the ability to view electronic maps layered with capabilities to turn content on and off, zoom in and out, click on features to incorporate information and access live feeds from external and internal sources. The tool provides staff the ability to see the most current road closures, shelter status, demographic data and updates of significant event. Staff, in turn, uses this real-time information to make critical decisions to safeguard public safety. Users can instantly update evacuation zones while evaluating potential changes and ‘what-if’ scenarios.

The online aspect also enables the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and Federal Emergency Management Agency to see the same information that city officials are viewing, allowing for greater collaboration.

“Fortunately, we have never had to use the tool in a live situation, but we have successfully used it in many practice drills,” said Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator Erin Sutton. “Having the best tools for displaying and understanding evacuation data allows the emergency operations team to operate more efficiently, develop and maintain evacuation plans more effectively, and, therefore, provide a higher level of responsiveness to public safety.”

Disaster recovery and business continuity is one of the strategic initiatives in the city’s Master Technology Plan. Significant improvements to the city’s data center are also underway, including the recent addition of a new generator and uninterruptible power sources. The city is also moving its data to a cloud-based system.

To read the city’s Master Technology Plan, click here.

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