Preparedness & Recovery

Simulation Software Helped Evacuate 15,000 Animals During Gustav

Software provided real-time asset tracking and situational awareness during Hurricane Gustav evacuation.

by Corey McKenna / August 6, 2009
Dogs displaced by Hurricane Ike are sheltered at the local center set up by the Humane Society. Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

Two million people evacuated the path of Hurricane Gustav as it approached the Gulf Coast in August 2008. As part of that evacuation, David Friedman, disaster response coordinator of the MuttShack Animal Response Team and government liaison with the American Red Cross, and his team were tasked with orchestrating the evacuation of 15,000 animals using 135 tractor trailers in convoys with buses of people.

That’s a major operation that — in the absence of software — shelter leaders and incident commanders manage with clipboards and log books. To avoid that mass of paper and facilitate information sharing, Friedman turned to disaster simulation software Depiction.

Developed by a former Microsoft executive, Depiction uses technology from the company’s flight simulator to allow emergency planners to posit what-if scenarios and plot responses to emergencies as they occur using an interface akin to a real-time strategy game.

“We were able to sit in Baton Rouge at the state’s emergency operations center in our operations trailer and with amateur radio and Depiction, the team was able to run the whole thing,” he said.

Friedman made a simulation of the entire situation in Louisiana in about 15 minutes while en route from Washington to the emergency operations center (EOC) in New Orleans.

When he arrived, the EOC didn’t have phones or Internet access, so Friedman shared his simulation over an ad hoc wireless network that had been set up. Then all he had to do was import Excel spreadsheets with updated information containing data like shelter capacity and status and a volunteer roster that included their credentials.

These people and assets were populated on the map either automatically or after someone called to update their location. Icons represent each person and asset, so as Friedman deployed volunteers he would just drag and drop their icons into a shelter, vehicle or pick-up point. As a result, he could track shelter statuses and the location assets used in the response. “If you have a stockpile of cots or shelter start-up kits somewhere, you can populate that — you can populate that storehouse somewhere with everything — and as you use them you can depopulate it and assign those assets to somewhere else,” he said.
“We even had the National Guard really impressed with it, with the idea that they could basically do the same thing. Rather than having somebody just radio in, ‘OK. My position is here, here and here,’ that their GPS location could also pop up on the map,” Friedman said.

Depiction software shows assets and their properties.    
  A screenshot of the Depiction software.

Other Applications

The software also aided Friedman during other emergencies. “Here in Washington, every year lately we’ve had flooding,” he said. With the Depiction software, within seconds emergency response planners could see what the effects of flooding on a particular portion of the state would be and respond accordingly.

The software was also used in California to fight fires in San Diego County. During the 2007 Rancho Bernardo fires, some incident commanders used publicly available building permits to plot the locations of swimming pools throughout the county, in addition to the locations of lakes, rivers and reservoirs so they quickly knew where they could get water.

“All of that’s really important,” Friedman said, “and if you can have that at your fingertips, all in one neat package, and even have multiple copies of that. Have one [with the] incident commander in the field, and then at the EOC have the same thing, you don’t lose anybody and you don’t lose any resources. At any given time you can have a situation report of everything that you want.”

[Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA.]