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A car crushed by a fallen tree surrounded by branches and tree trunks; a Beavercreek Township fire truck leaves the fire station.

Disaster Recovery and Damage Assessment with FirstNet in Southern Ohio

January 30, 2020

On Memorial Day 2019, severe storms ravaged states from Idaho and Colorado to Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Forecasters estimate that nearly 55 tornadoes may have touched down across eight states in this region, and some of the heaviest damage occurred outside of Dayton, OH. Beavercreek Township, situated approximately 10 miles Southeast of Dayton, experienced an EF3 tornado with winds as high as 140 miles per hour. The tornado touched down in neighboring Montgomery County around 11pm, tearing through Greene County and leaving miles of destruction through Beavercreek and surrounding areas. Ultimately, many lives were affected, thousands of residential and commercial properties were damaged, and gas and power lines were compromised and impaired. 

In the immediate aftermath of this storm, several agencies from across Ohio played their part in the recovery effort. Central Ohio Strike Team, Ohio Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Region 4 deployed to Dayton, searching a large number of residential home and commercial properties in Harrison Township on the northwest side along with Ohio Task Force One. OH USAR Region 6 (Hamilton County) and Region 3 (Miami Valley) were paired to search an area in Tortwood. 

The Beavercreek Township Fire Department was tasked locally with disaster mitigation, including assessing damage and ensuring the safety of all residents. A FirstNet subscriber, the fire department was able to request a mobile cell site, known as a Satellite Cell on Light Truck (SatCOLT), and WiFi hotspots to augment firefighters’ communication needs while teams were conducting assessments. These resources ensured the command post could communicate with the responders in the field, as well as deliver maps and pre-plans to help the field units address the needs of Beavercreek Township residents. The fire department also used an app to assist with collecting data and reporting on the damage to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Having these additional resources was invaluable to first responders as they worked on disaster mitigation and recovery efforts. “The data exchange really started from the coordination efforts at the Emergency Operations Center knowing which crews were in which map area,” noted Beavercreek Township Fire Department Battalion Chief Nathan Hiester. “We were able to send specific map sections out to specific crews to help keep accountability and make sure we knew where crews were working, so we could track them and make sure they were safe.”

After successful usage during this incident, Battalion Chief Hiester says his agency is looking to explore other ways the network can benefit their daily operations, including through asset tracking and health data monitoring. Having a dedicated network is integral to their operations and provides countless new possibilities for them as emergency responders.

Learn more about how the Beavercreek Township Fire Department utilized FirstNet in the aftermath of this tornado in the following video: