Residents wondering whether a pending storm will lead to evacuations, or if port conditions have changed, hold fast. Florida Keys officials say there's an app for that.
More accurately, plans are underway to unveil a new Monroe County Emergency Management and Fire Rescue website that will operate independently of the existing Monroe County website.
The new site will roll out in the coming weeks and officials hope that a sister mobile application for smart phones and tablet computers will follow in the next fiscal budget cycle, said Alary Luttazi, senior administrative assistant for Monroe County Emergency Management.
The new emergency management website -- funded by a $38,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security -- will have its own servers and can be updated directly by emergency management and fire officials, said Monroe County Emergency Management Director Irene Toner and Fire Rescue Deputy Chief of Operations Gary Boswell.
The address for the new website is still being hammered out, but it will be easy to use and provide users with direct, up-to-the-minute information on approaching storms as well as shelter information and volunteer forms, Toner said.
Emergency planners wanted to provide such information to the public more efficiently and they currently have to go through the county website to update their data.
"We need the ability to go right in without having to go through another layer of personnel," Toner said.
County commissioners approved payment to the website company at its last meeting. As soon as the company is paid the website's address will be finalized and it will go live, Toner said.
"Principally, we were looking for a website that our personnel could use internally and communicate with each other that would provide easy access to documents we all use," Boswell said. "But we also wanted to interact with the public and provide information on job training, job opportunities and other things. We work side by side with emergency management in the same building, so it made sense."
Luttazi has been working on the project for years and sees the new website as the first step in a larger goal of incorporating Facebook, Twitter and smart phones when the mobile application goes online, hopefully in the next 18 months.
"I said we needed to start doing more with platforms that people use on the islands," Luttazi said. "A lot of people have iPhones, but not a car down here. More people are dependent on their phones for information, more so than TV." That isn't necessarily the case on the mainland, Luttazi said.
"We're going to make the app user-friendly that will ding with updates that will be totally personalized with your preferences, whether that's school closings or storm status updates," Luttazi said. "Just like your sports app dings when the New England Patriots trade a player or whatever. Same kind of thing."
The website will be up and running first, which should be in a few weeks.
"We're excited," Toner said. "It should be more efficient and comprehensive." firstname.lastname@example.org