MEHOP along with Direct Relief and Balcony held the first crisis mapping workshop for Matagorda County on January 16, 2020. The focus of the workshop was on understanding the use of geo-communications and crisis mapping to respond more effectively, safely and quickly to emergency events.  

One of the biggest challenges during an emergency is communication. Through use of an app, the Balcony software enables individuals to engage in situational networking. “With the app, you communicate with people because of where they are”, said Balcony Founder & CEO David Hammel, “with Facebook and other chat tools you communicate with people regardless of where they are”.  Information received through the app is based on location and not on personal information. With privacy by design, no personal information is received and use of the app is anonymous. Once the app is downloaded, it allows rapid, real-time data collection, analysis and feedback from individuals during an emergency.

The app transmits geographically specific information and allows individuals to post events in their location in real time to the app lead(s) for their area. Only the app lead(s) see the posts. The lead can then send out a notification to all app users in a geographic area or single out a specific vicinity to send notification to. If an app user travels into the proximity of this location, they would receive a warning notification about this area. App leads can also see how many are in a specific area based on those who have downloaded the app or by the use of Facebook population mapping. 

Let’s say we are experiencing a tropical depression and the east side of the county begins to flood and residents need to be evacuated. If the app is used, individuals could send photos, text messages or even video of what is going on at their location so emergency management officials could coordinate an effective, timely response. Or let’s say we are in recovery mode and need to get supplies out to the community. Emergency management officials could send out a survey to see which neighborhoods are in need of supplies to better direct resources.  This would eliminate the risk of resources sitting in warehouses going to waste as seen in recent news because there was no clear communication on where they needed to be directed.

MEHOP currently is in the process of implementing the app from an organizational standpoint. The app fulfills the needs of a variety of possible emergency events. We have multiple clinics in multiple locations, and this will allow us to better coordinate staff, resources and receive real time information about our locations and where we have staff located for emergency response. Community stakeholders can function independently through the app or can overlap with other community stakeholders to provide broader insight for emergency response through the use of one integrated emergency management system.    

Through MEHOP’s partnership with humanitarian organization, Direct Relief, this new technology is offered to community stakeholders in Matagorda County. Direct Reliefs goal is to assist community stakeholders in managing and responding to emergency events more effectively and timely. If you are interested in learning more or attending the next workshop, contact MEHOP COO, Cory McCray at 979-245-2008 ext. 308. 

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