Central Okanagan Emergency Operations Centre recognized for using cloud technology to reduce risk during major wildfire event

Kelowna BC, Esri Canada User Conference – May 2, 2013 Esri Canada today recognized the Central Okanagan Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) for their innovative use of online technology in managing a major wildfire event. A combination of climate, substantial urban development and the recent Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic places the Central Okanagan Region at increased risk for wildfires making the EOC one of the most active Emergency Operation Centres in the country. In 2012, they were put to the test by a major wildfire that swept through the small lakefront community of Peachland. With wind gusts as strong as 50 kilometres fuelling the fire, emergency officials needed a quick and easy way to provide the public with real-time evacuation information. They were the first EOC in B.C. to leverage ArcGIS Online to deploy an interactive Web map that made it possible to eliminate time delays in communicating life-saving evacuation orders and alerts.

“When a threat to public safety occurs, Emergency Operation Centres are under intense pressure to operate quickly and precisely, knowing that even the slightest delay in communication can costs lives,” said Alex Miller, president, Esri Canada. “The Central Okanagan EOC offers an excellent example of how the latest cloud technology can be leveraged to seamlessly collaborate with partners, deliver information to staff and communicate real-time data with the public.”

Located 380 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, the Peachland wildfire moved over three kilometres in little over an hour, destroying four homes. Nearly one-fifth of the population was ordered to evacuate and over 17 fire trucks were deployed along with half a dozen water- bombing helicopters.

Typically, during an emergency event, the EOC would make static PDF maps available to the public through media releases. However, this process introduced significant time delays because the Central Okanagan Region’s GIS department would be inundated with requests for maps and information. An emergency of this magnitude called for a much quicker and more effective way to communicate with the public.

“With wildfires occurring at least once a year, we recognized the need to build a uniform online communication system for the public that could be accessed on a variety of platforms,” said Dave Orlando, GIS Technologist, Regional District of Central Okanagan (CORD). “However, as a small team, we were also required to work within the confines of very limited resources.”

To address the issue, the Central Okanagan Region teamed up with the City of Kelowna to develop an interactive Web map of unfolding events that could be accessed through ArcGIS Online as well as the Central Okanagan Emergency Operations Web site. A link to the map can also be shared by the Central Okanagan communications department through Facebook and Twitter. Users leverage it to view evacuation orders, alerts and road closures.

“ArcGIS Online offered an advantage in that it allowed us to leverage our own basemap and addresses which are updated weekly,” said Dave Orlando. “Using this platform also removed a significant amount of overhead because it’s compatible with almost any device, allowing us to create one map and deploy it many times.”

When a wildfire occurs, the EOC draws boundaries for evacuations, which are published to the map and edited as events unfold. Edits are made directly to the geodatabase and automatically reflected in the map, providing the public with live updates.

“The EOC Web site that houses the emergency map was specifically designed to be as simple and easy-to-use as possible,” said Jason Brolund, Deputy Fire Chief, Kelowna Fire Department. “Our main objective was to provide a single source of official information during emergencies. We knew we were successful when the site starting popping up on major news networks such as Global, CTV and CBC, in addition to the fact that it received over 80,000 visits following the Peachland fire.”

The online map can be accessed on most mobile devices including iPhones, Android and Windows phones. A link to the map can also be easily distributed to over 1,000 officials and residents who subscribe to EOC email updates. This allows stakeholders, who may be called upon to assist during an emergency situation, to develop an understanding of events prior to arriving on site.

Visit the Central Okanagan Emergency Operations Centre Web map.


About the Central Okanagan Emergency Operations Centre
The Emergency Operations Centre provides a physical location where representatives come together during an emergency to coordinate response and recovery actions and resources, acting in a support role to emergency response personnel in the field. It is the operations center where coordination and management decisions are facilitated, and where all official communications regarding an emergency originates. The EOC is coordinated by the City of Kelowna Fire Department on behalf of Lake Country, Kelowna, West Kelowna, Peachland, Westbank First Nation and Regional District of Central Okanagan. In the event of an emergency in the Central Okanagan, the EOC serves as the primary source to deliver official information to the public and the media. In an emergency situation, updates are posted as they become available. If a major emergency such as forest fire, flood, airplane crash or other catastrophes occur, the Central Okanagan Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) is activated. Find out more about the Central Okanagan Emergency Operations Centre.


About Esri Canada
Founded in 1984, Esri Canada provides enterprise geographic information system (GIS) solutions that empower businesses, governments and educational institutions to make timely, informed and mission-critical decisions by leveraging the power of geography.  The company distributes the world's leading GIS software from Esri, Telvent, Cityworks – Azteca Systems, Inc. and other technology partners.  Headquartered in Toronto, the company serves over 10,000 customers from 16 regional offices across Canada.  Esri Canada has joined the elite rank of Canada’s Best Managed companies and has been named to the Branham300.  Information about the company can be found at esri.ca.


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