Portage County launches first emergency management app in Northeast Ohio

Emergency Management App

Lily Martis

Portage County announced the launch of their emergency management app  the first of its kind in Northeast Ohio — that will connect residents to local information and resources for emergencies.

The launch took place during a briefing on Nov. 6 at the Office of Portage County Commissioners in Ravenna, where the app was introduced and a demonstration was provided on how it will work to benefit residents before, during and after emergencies.

The app provides the current weather and the ability to connect with the Portage Prepares webpage, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, alerts and messages, daily reports during a disaster, a list of shelters during emergency, traffic reports and links to prepare for disasters and emergencies.

Additionally, the app includes links to the Portage County Sheriff’s Office and police and fire stations for every jurisdiction in in the county. Residents can also report any suspicious behavior through a link on the app with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as part of the federal “See Something, Say Something” program.

The app is available to download for free on both iPhone and Android phones and tablets.

Ryan Shackelford, director of Portage County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, headed the project along with input from the Portage County Local Emergency Planning Committee, Portage County Emergency Management Advisory Committee and local first responders.

“I don’t think everybody realizes the amount of resources we have and how important it is for each individual to take some level of responsibility for an emergency,” Shackelford said. “Whether that is getting enough water for 72 hours, making sure you have extra medications on standby (or) even as simple as flashlights with batteries.”

Other app features include the ability for home and business owners to submit damage reports and photos, which will be used for situational awareness and data collection. Shackelford said these reports could be logged to help provide damage assessment information to the Ohio Emergency Management Agency, which is needed for disaster declaration through the county, state and federal governments.

Shackelford plans on sending out push notifications in the case of severe events, such as a tornado.

A soft release of the app took place at the Randolph Fair in August, where about 300 people downloaded the app.

With a population of about 162,000, Shackelford is hopeful the number of app downloads will increase upon its official launch.

“The whole idea is (that) this is Portage County,” Shackelford said. “Residents who live here, have lived here, who are going to live here, they can get a feel for Portage. It’s all about Portage.”

Watch coverage of the launch here:

The app cost $6,000 to develop and was funded in part through a $3,000 Special Projects grant from Ohio Emergency Management. It will cost Portage County $2,400 a year to maintain.

The idea for the app came from Jeff Baxter, a former Portage County resident. Baxter is a communications strategist for OCV LLC, a custom iPhone and Android app developer.

“There are all types of different things that happen in Portage County,” Baxter said. “From funky chemicals to severe weather, even health scares. This app is a way to get information out and let residents know about it.”

Now residing in Hoover, Alabama, Baxter still has family living in Portage County, which is one of the reasons the creation of this app was so important to him.

“I feel I have a personal mission to help my community,” Baxter said. “I wanted to have a connection back with my hometown.”

Baxter has helped create a number of apps of similar nature throughout the country.

“An app is a place to consolidate resources, so residents have one place to go to gather information,” Baxter said. “That’s the whole purpose of the app: to gather all of these outlets of information and resources in one trusted source.”

This is the third app of its kind in Ohio, with Hamilton County and Wood County being the other two counties in Ohio with emergency management apps.

Maureen Frederick, president of the Board of Portage County Commissioners, said Portage County wanted to continue to advance their outreach capabilities as residents’ methods of receiving communication continue to change.

“With so many people using smartphones and tablets, Portage County has initiated its own free emergency management app to provide one place for our residents to find important information at any time including weather reports, daily situational reports and links to emergency information,” Frederick said. “It is a powerful tool for…staying safe in a disaster.”

Lily Martis is the editor-in-chief for KentWired. Contact her at [email protected].