SACRAMENTO, Calif. — In a move to bolster its defenses against this winter’s El Niño storms, Los Angeles last week unveiled an interactive map that allows users to receive up-to-the-minute emergency information on their mobile devices or home computers.
“We’re a city of almost 4 million people,” Ted Ross, Los Angeles’ chief information officer told StateScoop. “I can’t send out enough people to speak word of mouth or to get things on the news, but if I can get them 24/7 through Web or mobile means, I can actually cover a lot more ground and can really engage our citizenry.”
The El Niño Watch tool allows users to filter traffic and weather information, and public alerts onto a Google Map interface. It also allows citizens to connect to GPS for directions to city resources — like winter emergency shelters for residents in need of heat or power.
“What’s really unique about it is that it shows city services and city resources also on this map,” Ross said. “You’ve got a layer for hardware stores, a layer for free sandbags, a layer that shows power outages. As well, if you click on the power outage it will show folks affected and the status, even the ETA for when it will be restored.”
The application was a joint effort of the city’s Information Technology Agency, Emergency Management Department, and the mayor’s office. The city began work on the project in November, when Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti asked the city’s service departments what information the map should contain.
“We’ll see how it works through El Niño and then assess if there are other applications it can be used for in the future,” Vicki Curry, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office, wrote in an email to StateScoop.
Ross said it’s critical for the city to do what it can to be prepared for El Niño as he knows firsthand the toll the storms can take.
“I lived in LA back in ’98 with the previous El Niño, and it caused such huge disturbances,” Ross said. “Our city has only gotten bigger, it’s only gotten more congested in various areas so it’s very important that we’re prepared. It’s much easier to prepare for something than it is to try to fix issues during it.”