OKStrong Website Aids Oklahoma Disaster Relief

Within 24 hours of the tornado that devastated Moore, Okla., last month, the OKStrong website went live to serve as a central point for official communications and relief efforts.

by / June 4, 2013
Moore, Okla., following the tornado in May 2013 Photo from Shutterstock

When a tornado devastated Moore, Okla., on May 20, the state was quick to organize a relief effort. One of the most important tools in this effort was the OKStrong website, launched in the wake of the disaster.

OKStrong was put together efficiently, according to Oklahoma CIO Alex Pettit. "As with anything done in a crisis, you don't keep track of how much you're putting into it at the time because you're just doing what you need to get done," said Pettit. "All of the infrastructure was already available to us," he added, explaining that the website runs off the same framework as OK.gov, the state's main web portal.

On the morning after the storm in an emergency cabinet meeting, Gov. Mary Fallin came up with the name for the new site. According to Pettit, the website was up before that meeting concluded. "We've been updating it as they identify content and needs up to today," he said.

Mark Mitchell, General Manager of OK.gov, worked around the clock on the website. "We utilized our local content management system and initially launched the site with a handful of informational pages," he said. "From there, it grew into an information source where donation centers and shelter information were available."

Mitchell emphasizes the importance of the maps provided on the website, explaining that a partnership with Socrata allowed them to quickly create an impact map -- an interactive, street-level map overlaid with the areas impacted by the storm. Aid resources, including charging stations, donation centers and shelters, are also plotted on the map. A separate map featuring a slide overlay now depicts before and after imagery of the areas that were affected.

The site has given people across the country a place where they can go to help victims of the tragedy. "This is a living site that has content added every single day," Mitchell said, noting that local and national media outlets have helped promote the site.

Pettit says that coordination is key in dealing with a disaster of this magnitude. "We're trying to provide tools that will facilitate the matching of people's capabilities and things that they're willing and able to contribute to the needs that we have," he said. "We needed bottled water at one point during the response, but you only need so much bottled water. You don't need it all at once and you don't need truckloads and truckloads and truckloads of it. You need certain things at certain times. So it's really about trying to help coordinate the donors with needed recipients."

OKStrong has also helped many people hold onto important belongings, according to Pettit. During cleanup efforts, residents have come across things like photographs, keepsakes, and even pets. "The website acts as a tool to reunite people with these belongings," Pettit said.

A great deal of effort has gone into the website, according to Mitchell. His staff of 22 people at Oklahoma Interactive, the NIC subsidiary that has managed the state's website for more than 10 years, supports OKStrong. The group is also developing several apps nearing release. "We've been able to do all this without any extra cost to the state," he said.

Pettit said the website has been an extraordinary aid to the relief efforts, crediting Gov. Fallon for prioritizing site development in order to coordinate official communications and response efforts. "This is one of those things that IT can do to be of assistance to those who have suffered loss as well as to those who are trying to bring help," he said.

Photo from Shutterstock.

Scott Amundson Contributing Writer

Scott Amundson has written for a number of fine publications, including Attorney-at-Law Magazine and The Suit Magazine. He also contributes to the Oklahoman and the Journal Record.