The following article is reprinted from Baron Services and is available here.

Wildfires in Woodward: Using Baron App Technology to Improve Critical Weather Awareness and Disaster Mitigation

“Public education is the hardest part of our job,” said Matt Lehenbauer, Emergency Management Officer at Woodward County EMA in Oklahoma. “We can’t prevent every disaster—as much as we’d like to—but getting information out fast and effectively can help save lives.”

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The team at Woodward County Office of Emergency Management has the important responsibility of alerting citizens when disasters and large-scale emergencies are imminent. “Five years ago, reaching the public in time was a challenge,” said Lehenbauer. “The alerting process required a small team to make phone calls to a long list of people, including schools, coaches and businesses. Thanks to ATsWeatherToGo app, we have overcome that hurdle.” The Baron-powered app allows Lehenbauer and his crew to get the word out successfully and help the community make smart decisions during uncertain situations.

AT Weather App

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Aaron Tuttle, well-known storm chaser and meteorologist in Oklahoma City, worked with Baron to develop the ATsWeatherToGo app with the goal of enhancing weather awareness, especially during emergencies. The app provides advance warning with Baron’s patented Safety Net alerts. But more than that, it also offers:

  • Advanced radar with weather type depiction
  • Hurricane and severe storm tracking
  • Lightning in the area alerts with graphical display
  • Storm Prediction Center Outlooks
  • National Weather Service alerts
  • Personalized push notifications to your specific location
  • Blog style weather related discussions, graphics and video
  • Live severe weather coverage
  • Social Media integration and photo upload

“No other app that I know of provides all of these features at no extra cost to the user,” said Lehenbauer. “Usually, lightning data is an extra charge—an add on. In EMA offices where the budget is tight, this tool is a game-changer.” The team at Woodward County announced the app’s availability to citizens in February 2016.

Notifying the public with customized manual alerts.

In April 2016, a massive wildfire quickly destroyed 9 miles of land in Woodward County. What started as severe winds rapidly turned into an extreme fire danger that resulted in $2.3 million of private property damage. “Electrical lines were being blown everywhere by the high winds, and began to spark,” said Lehenbauer. “Containing it was very difficult.”

Fire and Smoke product on Woodward, OK.

The Baron Fire and Smoke product shows exactly how far the dangerous wildfires spread on April 7, 2016.

Woodward County is situated in an area that’s prone to large wildfires. According to Lehenbauer, “the location is known for high winds and low rainfall.” Every few years, Woodward expects to face a potentially catastrophic wildfire. Lehenbauer was able to use the App Messenger’s push notification feature to send an evacuation message to residents in the path of the fire. The App Messenger is a secure web portal where public safety officials and others can create and send customized, targeted alerts to users of a Baron-powered app. They manually define the areas to notify and can provide much-needed awareness as situations progress. This allowed the team at Woodward to evacuate 40 homes during the April wildfires, saving numerous lives.

Screenshot of App Messenger polygon.

“One of the best features of the App Messenger is the ability to see how many users I’m reaching in a threatened area,” said Lehenbauer. “I knew my evacuation alerts were making their way to a number of people.” By manually defining which users received the notification, they were able to guarantee that the people who needed to evacuate were alerted ahead of time. This method also ensures users who aren’t in danger do not receive unnecessary messages, causing alert fatigue.

Screenshot of wildfire warning messages in App Messenger.

Here are a few of the notifications sent from the Woodward County EMA to evacuate citizens during the wildfires.

Evaluating damage in real time.

When damage occurs in the Woodward community, the EMA officials are able to access real-time feedback from users on the scene. “We have to drive up to 1,500 miles of road in our jurisdiction after an event to assess damages,” said Lehenbauer. “With the app, we get immediate notifications of where the destruction has occurred. The images sent in from the community let us know what areas need immediate attention.”

Screenshot of user-generated App Messenger images.

Actual photos sent to Woodward County EMA from users of the ATsWeatherToGo app.

User-submitted photos save the Woodward EMA precious time and lets them work more proficiently as a team. “Now, we know exactly where the damage took place, and we can also warn others of dangerous events as they are happening.”

Technology that goes beyond weather-related risks.

While the app is certainly armed to inform about possible critical weather scenarios, Lehenbauer stressed that the app’s uses are endless.

“We are doing things that were never possible before,” he said. “Imagine for a moment that we have an escapee at a local prison, a child who has been abducted or a senior citizen that has gone missing. This app will let us send mass Amber alerts and Silver alerts—everything down to the car tag number that the public can watch out for.”

Other EMAs that have witnessed the app’s effectiveness in emergency management at Woodward have reached out to Lehenbauer about adding the technology to their own office. “Our job is to prepare for, respond and recover from natural and manmade disasters,” said Lehenbauer. “It’s a job we take seriously. The Baron-powered app has made us more efficient and able to protect the communities we serve with greater success.”

For more information on ATsWeatherToGo app technology, click or tap here.

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