CEMA streamlines hurricane/storm damage relief reports

TYBEE ISLAND, GA (WTOC) - Two and half months after Irma impacted the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry, residents along Lewis Avenue on Tybee Island are still in recovery mode.

Shells of homes, piles of debris, and the beep, beep, beep of big trucks hauling in building materials.

Randall Mathews, with the Chatham Emergency Management Agency, shows the watermarks along the houses. It's that mark that they use as a tool for their initial damage reports. It was a dauntless task.

"Previously, we had a paper method for collecting and that takes a long time," Mathews said.

Emergency management basically walking door-to-door through Chatham County with clipboards and cameras or their phones and at the end of each day matching those materials together.

"It became apparent through Matthew when these big stacks of paper are sitting next to me and I'm looking at them and just knowing it's not possible to get done in the time frame it needed to be done," Kirk McElveen said.

Kirk McElveen with the Chatham County Engineering Department helped streamline the process into an app. "We had the tools, we just needed the higher-ups to let us put them to use in the field."

"For Hurricane Matthew, we did 14,000 field surveys over a five-day period and that was paper collection and some digital," Mathews said. "For Hurricane Irma, we've gone all digital and within three days we did over 77,000 property surveys."

With the new app, McElveen helped develop with the Chatham County Engineering Department, the average time to do a "windshield survey" on a home is about 60 seconds. Remember, this is just looking at the outside which is sometimes just that watermark.

"The great thing about this is that we can see live what is happening on the ground, so if someone makes an edit in the field, it's sent back to our servers. We can monitor, to the minute, how many major damages, minor damages, flooded structures. FEMA is also watching it from any device live in D.C. and they have the same information we have to make that declaration much faster," McElveen said.

Whole neighborhoods can be assessed in hours and FEMA in D.C. can watch those assessments in real time determining what we need in aid faster.

"It feels great, just knowing that people, we're able to give people a voice that they may not otherwise have, and the speed in which we can bring aid to these people, no one's seen it yet in the country, that I know of," McElveen said.

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