The time to make a plan is now

emergency-response21-223491Reality: Emergencies happen

Contemplating worst case scenarios and one’s potential responses is clearly a source of amusement for many. But to public servants who shoulder the responsibility of providing critical services to citizens in a time of crisis, considering the ramifications of different types of emergencies can be a very sobering thing indeed.

Earthquakes, hazardous chemicals, disrupted transportation infrastructure, criminal sabotage, housebound staff, islands of isolation…little creativity is required to conjure visions of circumstances within which maintaining basic services and providing vital support to citizens can abruptly change from daily and routine to supremely challenging.

Preparation is key.

Preparing to Prepare

washWe are working with Washington County, Oregon to help assess their needs and optimize their resources so they are better equipped to plan responses to different types of emergencies. The project involves a broad group of stakeholders that extends across many County departments.

We’ll start by examining individual and shared needs and concerns to help define the ideal type of information needed in a variety of emergencies. Next, we’ll explore the best way to provide that information so that stakeholders may individually and collectively improve their planning and preparation for responding in times of crisis.

After we’ve spoken to shareholders, defined the necessary information, and explored options for sharing that information when the resources we take for granted on a daily basis have been compromised, we’ll provide recommended solutions and help the County in implementing them.

Common Functions

The necessary information needed by this particular set of shareholders will certainly be unique, but in our experience with helping organizations prepare for emergencies, we’ve found that the solutions start with many commonalities:

  • They need to address geographic, place-based questions.
  • They must cross functional, operational, and jurisdictional boundaries. Disasters tend not to honor human boundaries!
  • They must be multi-disciplinary.
  • A planning and training module is extremely important. The best way provide a truly coordinated response is continual training. Part of good planning involves assuring that emergency responders have “muscle memory” when it comes to their tools so there are no questions about how to use them.

Preparation Saves Lives!

No one wants a disaster to occur, but when they do happen, preparation can save lives. A solid plan, and useful tools can be the difference between a smooth recovery and a long haul.

If it’s time to assess your emergency preparedness and planning resources, feel free to drop us a line.

Yes, we speak SQL

We recently finished a project for the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) where we migrated old data from a variety of sources into a new, modern SQL database that our team modeled and implemented. In addition, we built a web application that allows DLCD staff (and, coming soon, county staff) to enter, view and edit the data.
For DLCD, this was a mission-critical project to take control over an ever-growing cacophony of data. We were given data that had been stored in Access, FileMaker and even Paradox. Our job was to model a new, modern database based in SQL Server, parse out (and clean up) the old data, and migrate it into the new database.

Our next step was to build a web application that would allow DLCD staff to enter, view and edit data. Something that – before now – only a limited number of people had the ability to do. Our web application offers a modern alternative to paper forms and business rules and logic have been built into the application to enforce quality in the data as it is entered.  While not a revolutionary concept, this practical use of technology represents a major positive change for an agency that has struggled with data management in the past.

The new database/web application was recently launched and is already a hit among the DLCD staff. They will be using it internally for a few months before opening it up to the counties (the data originates at the county-level) for their staff to directly enter data.

As you can imagine, there were a lot of challenges along the way, but we worked with our client and moved past the challenges (did you see the part about the sources of data!?) to build them a tool that we feel will serve them for years to come.

Introducing the new-and-improved ODOT SpeedMap

After many months of development and testing, the new-and-improved Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) TripCheck SpeedMap has been rolled out. Sort of. It’s currently on the What’s New page of TripCheck, where ODOT is previewing it for the public and gathering feedback. Please check it out and let ODOT know what you think (we’d really like to know as well…)!
We aren’t just interested because we’re map geeks. We developed the application. It’s a unique and “first ever” application in many respects.

Map for the Color Blind

For starters, it’s the first traffic map to provide a grayscale option for those who face the challenges of color blindness. With close to 9% of the population being color blind in some way, ODOT wanted to make sure that the entire traveling public would be served by the new map. The Gartrell Group started with a fair amount of research into the issue of designing web sites and mapping color schemes for people with Color Visual Deficiency. We initially proposed developing the map using a color blind friendly color palette, so that users would not have to toggle between maps, but ODOT felt that the majority of the traveling public has become conditioned to understand what the green, yellow and red colors indicate. I can’t say I disagree!

Blend of Technologies

As you will no doubt notice, the map is zoomable and pannable (if those words don’t already exist, I just made them up…). The old map was most certainly not. To achieve this feat – and maintain the needed performance – we are using a hybrid GIS approach. A server running ESRI’s ArcGIS Server 10 is capturing the speeds from each of the segments, at each of the zoom levels, for both the color and grayscale maps, and placing the corresponding color on the matching highway segment. An image of each zoom level is then sent to the SpeedMap web server every two minutes where they are compiled and turned into the interactive SpeedMap. This allows the travelling public to get virtually live traffic conditions without bringing the server to its knees.

Extremely Accurate

Traffic-flow maps aren’t anything new. They’ve been available from Google for a while, and people can even add traffic speed services onto their car’s GPS. The difference is in the data. The Google/NavTech solutions depend upon estimating speeds based upon mobile phones constantly triangulating their position. Yes, your phone is telling the world where you are and basically how fast you’re going! The ODOT SpeedMap uses data derived from in-road and roadside sensors and are far, far more accurate than any of the alternatives.


Like every project, this one had its challenges. Technology was the biggest challenge; how do we deliver the type of map that web users are accustomed to without bringing down the infrastructure that serves it? Our unique solution is able to deliver the experience that savvy web users expect while maintaining the performance requirements that ODOT expects.

A screenshot showing the highway speeds and the toggle to turn them on and off.Our other challenges revolved around data and how (and when) to display it. Being the fans of simple, clean maps, that we are, we made the case for a simple, thematic map, free of distractions. Our clients, being engineers and fans of data, wanted to show the underlying data. Their thoughts; “we have the data, let’s show it.” It’s hard to argue with that rationale! This results in a number being placed next to each highway segment, and, in my opinion, a very, very busy map. I pleaded with our clients, but they insisted that the numbers should stay. We reached a compromise with the “Speeds On/Off” toggle. This allows users who don’t want to be distracted by all of the numbers the ability to simply turn them off.

The final result is a revolutionary map that we hope will serve the traveling public with the information that they need when they need it, and is something that everyone at the Gartrell Group is proud to have worked on!