New software will help Pittsylvania County first responders communicate better during disasters

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PITTSYLVANIA COUNTY (WSLS 10) - About two dozen different agencies spent the day in the county's emergency operation center learning how to use what is essentially a digital version of the center.

"We built this in-house. So, it's all used from Google Docs, Google Forms, Gmail, that type of stuff," Pittsylvania County EMA Director Jim Davis explained.

The software is designed to provide first responders with the same information and same communication ability remotely that they would get if they were in the center communicating with each other directly.

Davis said he wanted something as a backup to the center in case a disaster was so severe some, or all, of the responding agencies couldn't get there.

He said he is pleased with the results of the training.

"It was really testing the robustness of the system; was it able to do what it needed to do and to provide that information quickly enough and see it as much as real time as possible, which we did see that," Davis said.

Pittsylvania County Sheriff Mike Taylor said he was also pleased with the system and said that after using it Thursday he is confident it will increase the effectiveness of disaster response in the future.

"What we want the community to know is, we have their best interest at heart and our guys are going to be out there in the midst of it working through the details," Taylor emphasized.

He said learning to use the program alongside people he may have to work with during the disaster helped everyone realize the importance of working together and prioritizing resources.

"Even though it was a terrible storm that had come through our community, some parts of the community weren't affected. It was sort of business as usual. It kind of puts in the back of your mind that business has to go on even though your resources are there and how you have to prioritize," said  Taylor.

The training scenario was to respond to damage locally caused by a hurricane that hit the coast.

Davis plans to hold more training sessions in the future.

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