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story.lead_photo.caption Students from River Oak Christian Academy look at a screen Wednesday showing Surdex mapping during the Geographic Information Systems Open House at the Jefferson City Police Department. The map showed displayed aerial acquisition of affected areas before and after the tornado. Photo by Sally Ince / News Tribune.

After the May 22 tornado that hit Cole County and Jefferson City, the geographic information system (GIS) was used by government officials and first responders which allowed them to develop response plans to help those affected by the storm.

Nearly six months later, the results of those efforts were on display as part of GIS Day. At an open house Wednesday at the Jefferson City Police Department, residents came out to see how GIS helped in a crucial time of need and how it affects their everyday life.

GIS captures, stores, manipulates, analyzes, manages and presents spatial or geographic data. GIS applications are tools that allow users to create interactive queries, analyze spatial information, edit data in maps and present the results of all these operations.

GIS is used in many day-to-day government operations such as property assessment and displaying school, fire and voting districts.

In 2006, MidMoGIS was formed as a partnership between Jefferson City and Cole County, allowing the two governments to share GIS data, projects and hardware/software resources.

Melissa Johnson, Cole County GIS manager, said the State Emergency Management Agency was able to get image data of the areas the Friday after the tornado and create 3-D models and large maps of the damage, which were on display.

"Having imagery two days later was just incredible," Johnson said. "We were able to get this to people who had to go door to door to check on people and see how much damage there was."

Johnson said they were able to generate maps showing the exact path of the tornado, and they'll be able to still use the information for future needs.

"In a few years when people start building or not building back in those tornado areas, we'll be able compare the aerial imagery to see how much more new growth we've had or not," she said.

Surdex Corporation of Chesterfield did the aerial survey work for the GIS tornado maps. Tim Donze, vice president for business development in the Midwest region, said they were able to act quickly due to relationships that were built among the state and local agencies before the tornado.

"I got a call from Buster (Schrage, GIS manager for Jefferson City) at quarter to four in the morning after the tornado," Donze said. "By Friday, we had airplanes in the air and data for first responders to use 24 hours after the flight. They could see a before and after look so they could identify what buildings looked like prior to the storm and what they looked like after the tornado."

Donze said the Missouri GIS Advisory Council has begun organizing information for people in similar situations throughout the state thanks to what they learned from the response to the tornado.

"We are documenting what went well, what things were challenges and what resources are available," he said.

The Jefferson City Fire Department uses GIS daily, and Division Chief Jerry Bloomberg said it was vital to the department's response to those affected by the tornado.

"That morning, as I was responding in from my home, I could look at my mobile data terminal and I could see the path of the tornado by the incidents that were mapped out so I had a rough idea of what we were dealing with," Bloomberg said. "All of our ground teams had GPS (Global Positioning Units), and they sent back information to the GIS departments to develop maps. After the tornado, when dealing with flooding, I asked for maps from GIS and got them in a couple of hours. I was very pleased with the help we got."

Bloomberg said JCFD has been using GIS for day-to-day operations for several years.

"We have it in our mobile data terminals in our trucks, and our personnel carry an app on their phone," Bloomberg said. "Just recently, we had a call at Binder Lake where were able to locate a person thanks to a GIS map."

To find more about the local GIS, go to midmogis.org.

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