Counties' system maps out dangers
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Dec 22, 2002
The Kentucky Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program
When Kentucky state and local officials used to conduct emergency training
exercises around the Blue Grass Army Depot, which stockpiles lethal chemicals,
they relied on dated paper road maps and the phone book to alert people.
"We discovered they were using black-and-white county highway maps,
enlarged to a 36-by-48 inch size and then taken to a local copy shop and
laminated," said Jim Fries, an executive consultant with Frankfort, Ky.-based
PlanGraphics Inc. The laminated maps were tacked to a wall, and people used
grease pencils to mark them up, he said.
Since then, PlanGraphics helped develop a geographic information system
for the region in a multiphase project.
For the latest exercise in October, emergency management personnel hooked
up a laptop computer — loaded with a mapping program — to a projector
displaying the nine-county area surrounding the depot. Underlying the maps
were data on evacuation routes, the location of daycare facilities, nursing
homes and assisted living sites, hospitals and schools, and other pertinent
Should a chemical plume drift in a particular direction, emergency workers
could locate affected facilities immediately on the map and click on the
representative icons to show information such as the number of patient beds
at a particular hospital or students at an elementary school with contact
names and telephone numbers. In the past, such information wasn't on hand.
"If it [the data] was anywhere, it was written on a piece of paper in
the book or they would have to make a call to the principal or board of
education to get that data," said Bill Hilling, the state emergency management
division planning project supervisor for the state's Chemical Stockpile
Emergency Preparedness Program.
CSEPP is a joint initiative between the Army and the Federal Emergency
Management Agency to develop and coordinate on- and off-post preparedness
plans, upgrade response capabilities and conduct training. In addition to
Kentucky, seven other Army installations — in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado,
Indiana, Maryland, Oregon and Utah — store and dispose of nerve and blister
Hilling said that about $38,000 in FEMA funds were used to purchase
a large format plotter, a computer, and ESRI ArcView products.
Earlier this year, PlanGraphics, working with state agencies and regional
entities, collected data and created base map layers using aerial photography
and satellite imagery. On top of that, more than 60 topographic and thematic
layers were created. A nine-county composite map and individual base maps
for each county also were developed.
John Antenucci, president and chief executive officer of PlanGraphics,
said the company designed the system so people who have never used GIS could
learn quickly. Because county and state workers have varying levels of knowledge
and expertise, PlanGraphics simplified the presentation of information,
lifting some counties to a technological level they have never seen before.
Fries said modeling applications such as plume, population density and/or
evacuation routing eventually will be integrated into the system.
Hilling said the GIS program can be used to respond to any disaster,
whether they are hazardous material events or tornadoes, floods and snowstorms.
Eventually, he said the state wants to expand the initiative to all of its
Within the nine-county region, he said several jurisdictions directly
send updated data and other relevant information via e-mail or CDs whenever
they can. As the state and counties get more familiar with the system, it
will be easier to update information.
Many areas in the country are not collaborating to build and share datasets,
Antenucci said. "There's a general misconception of the quality and comprehensiveness
of the databases needed in an emergency situation," he said. "We are, as
a country, in most jurisdictions, unprepared."