A few days after tornadoes struck Joplin, Mo. in 2011, tornadoes struck areas of Pettis County, more than 170 miles...
to the northeast, according to the county's 911 and Computer Information Services Director James Theisen.
As Pettis officials responded to the damage, a team from the Redlands, Calif.-based geographic information firm Esri offered to help with coordinating damage recovery. The team had been working in the state because of the monster tornado that had hit Joplin.
The Esri team came equipped with Juniper Systems Mesa Rugged Notepad computers, which Theisen said demonstrated a better way of coordinating information from the field.
"They called and said, 'Hey, we see you got a lot of damage, would you like us to help you with your damage assessment?' And of course we were doing it the old way -- paper and clipboards and a number 2 pencil," Theisen said. "They had the Mesas, so that's what we used. We were able to do damage assessment outside the city of Sedalia in Pettis County and inside the city of Sedalia in one day. That showed the power [of the devices]."
The Pioneer Trails Regional Planning Commission -- which represents Pettis County and several other Missouri counties -- purchased 14 Mesas for $49,700 through a Homeland Security grant offered via the Missouri Department of Public Safety. Theisen said his county also purchased two additional Mesas through a land use Community Development Block Grant.
"The emergency management side and the homeland security side are definitely using the tools of technology, trying to get more accurate, faster response to the needs of people," said Theisen, who works out of the county seat in Sedalia. Pettis County is home to 42,202 residents, he said.
The Logan, Utah-based Juniper Systems said its Mesa Rugged Notepad is a combination tablet and handheld computer that offers both portability and full-size computer options like support for USB devices and SD/SDHC cards.
The Mesa runs on Windows Embedded Handheld OS 6.5, and has the company's Juniper Home Screen, which offers controls for wireless connections, GPS, texting, email, a calendar and other functions, the company said.
The tablet includes a 16-hour battery, a 5.7-inch screen, a 3.2 megapixel camera, 256 MB of RAM and 4 GB of local storage. The device is built to withstand some impacts, immersion in water and temperatures of up to 122 degrees.
According to Juniper, the tablets also offer Esri ArcPad ArcGIS Mobile software for collecting data on assets and infrastructure, including information on the locations of gas shutoffs, fire hydrants, water lines and other assets.
Theisen said the tablets allow officials to work faster in delivering assistance after a disaster, because first responders can call up infrastructure, assessor and other data when they need it. He said having portable computers in the field makes it more efficient to respond following a disaster, since information between first responders, relief agencies and disaster victims can be shared more quickly. He said having tablets available allowed them to process Red Cross forms faster, as well.
"We never had any technology even close to that before. Being able to do that and being able to hook it to our assessor's office gave us a dollar amount [for damage estimates] in a very short amount of time," Theisen said. "Before you would bring a stack of three-inch thick paper, so you'd have to sit down and try to retype all that into a computer so you could extract the information you needed. This way, you can just extract it [in the field]."
Even though the tablets were first introduced to the county during a disaster recovery situation, Theisen said the county has day-to-day tasks for the Mesas -- specifically projects in the assessor's office and the highway department.