emergency app

County Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler (right) and County Manager Michele Lieberman (left) accept the award from the Florida Counties Foundation at the Florida Association of Counties. Alachua was one of seven counties recognized at the ceremony

Florida is in the midst of hurricane season, but this app will leave Alachua County prepared for even the worst of storms.

Alachua County received the “County Government Best Practices Award” from the Florida Counties Foundation at the Florida Association of Counties Annual Conference celebration dinner on Thursday.

The county received the award for the Emergency Operations Center Shelter Communications App created by the County’s Information & Telecommunications Services department. Alachua County was one of seven counties honored during the dinner.

Chris Nielsen, Alachua County web services supervisor, said he and his team have been working on the app since just after Hurricane Irma, which made landfall in Florida on Sept. 10, 2017.

The app they created can track a shelter’s population, including the number of pets, in real time even with weak or no internet signal and broadcast high-priority alerts from the Emergency Operations Center to all shelters. It also allows for text-based chatting between shelter managers and the Emergency Operations Center.

Nielsen said it is an honor to have the hard work of his employees recognized.

Nishant Maurya, a systems analyst, and Lindsay Hall, a web designs specialist, were also on the team.

 “We love serving our community and our neighbors,” he said.

 Nielsen said they created this app because Alachua County was required to open more shelters than any time in recent history during Hurricane Irma. This increase in shelters heightened the need for efficient communication between shelters and the Emergency Operations Center.

 “The Alachua County Commission, in speaking for them, I can tell you that they were extremely proud of this award and they prioritize making sure we do everything we can to be prepared and effective during emergency situations,” Alachua County Spokesperson Mark Sexton said. “They were very happy that the Florida Association of Counties chose to recognize them for this.”

Tien is a first-year journalism major at the University of Florida.