A large-scale natural or man-made disaster in California would put tremendous stress and extreme demands on the ability of governments and their building code agencies throughout the affected region to respond to and recover from such an event.
That stress and could be greatly reduced with mobile safety/damage assessment technology, according to a report released Dec. 14, 2008, by a partnership between the Alliance for Building Regulatory Reform in the Digital Age, the California Office of Emergency Services (OES) and the California Office of Homeland Security.
The report highlighted the successful demonstration during the Golden Guardian "Great ShakeOut" exercise in November 2008 in the Los Angeles Basin. The demonstration showed that building departments can transfer damage assessments quickly using mobile field inspection technology. The technology eliminates the need to spend hours transposing assessment report data onto federal disaster forms.
"This does takes the safety assessment information gathered in the field by the inspectors and forwards it into a central location," said Jim Barnes, associate civil engineer and project manager from OES. "This has always been part of the procedures, but in prior times, we would have them put it on a spreadsheet and have them either fax it to us or mail it to us.
"It sounds extremely interesting to us," Barnes said. "We're always interested in proving interoperability, and this sounds like a tool that we would look forward to using."
The far-reaching goals of the project are to prove the viability of building a regional, then statewide network of mobile field safety/damage assessment inspectors who could be mobilized to respond to a disaster. The inspectors would complete damage assessments; report data to a central command center and automatically upload the data for quick transmittal to the state and FEMA, thus speeding disasters assessment, assistance and recovery funding.
Barnes said it would allow officials at OES to get a quicker and better idea of damages for purposes of requesting federal assistance. "The other thing is that it helps the community understand how far-reaching their situation is," he said. "It doesn't solve everything, but it helps empty the shelters and helps the community see truly how bad it is as opposed to how bad they think it is. So it can be a set aside for fear in that respect."
For information, call Robert Wible at 703.568.2323.
Jim McKay is the editor of Emergency Management magazine. He lives in Orangevale, Calif., with his daughter, Ellie, and son, Ronan. He relaxes by fly fishing on the Truckee River for big, wild trout.