Award for computer map of Calhoun County storm zone
by Laura Johnson
Jun 26, 2012 | 4680 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When an EF-4 tornado destroyed parts of Calhoun County on April 27, 2011, emergency workers scrambled to grasp the scope of the damage.

Within two weeks, Calhoun County geographic information systems manager Robert Scheitlin developed an online map that made plain the amount of destruction left by the twister. Ever since it was developed, officials have been using the information depicted on the interactive map to aid in the recovery effort.

In May, Scheitlin received statewide recognition for his work when Auburn University Montgomery honored him with a Digital Government Innovation award. Scheitlin’s work beat three other contenders, including the Piedmont city school system, which was nominated for dispensing MacBooks to each child in grades four through 12.

“I love my job and it kind of comes second nature,” Scheitlin said, adding that the award itself was “very unexpected.”

Calhoun County Emergency Management Director Jonathan Gaddy nominated Scheitlin’s work in the fall. But Gaddy didn’t mention it until he was “strongly encouraged” to attend the awards ceremony just two weeks before the May banquet.

“By virtue of having this system, we knew every single parcel that was affected,” Gaddy said. “Had we not had that information, we would have had to go door-to-door to determine where the damages were.”

The county’s recovery contractor, the Highway Department, the Emergency Management Agency, and the Revenue Department all accessed the site throughout the recovery period. It has been used in recent months as the county cleans downed trees that remain in creeks and streams from the storm, Scheitlin said.

“I think Robert is a tremendous asset not just to the county but to all the agencies here,” Gaddy said. “It’s really critical in a disaster to be able to find out what’s going on as soon as possible. Maps help tremendously.”

Upon entering the site,, viewers see a disclaimer extending sympathy and privacy protection to the victims. After accepting the terms of the disclaimer, viewers can zoom in on a splotchy pink line that designates the storm’s path. Then, by simply sweeping the mouse cursor over the map, viewers can peel back time to compare the county’s landscape before and after the storm.

It takes four clicks and one swipe to view the before-and-after images. Ease of use was an important element of the design, Scheitlin said.

“We just wanted to make something that was extremely streamlined, easy to use,” he said.

It took extra work and some aerial photography -- at a cost of about $27,000 -- to develop the online interactive damage map.

It was work familiar to Scheitlin, who began his military career as a GIS programmer at Fort McClellan. He went on to work developing GIS systems for a private company. Five years ago he was hired to be the GIS manager for Calhoun County’s Revenue Department. He has received several awards for his work throughout his career, which spans about two decades.

“I’ve been blessed with some technical skills and programming skills,” he said, “and I put them to work in everything I do here.”

Staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter@LJohnson_Star.
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