Portage County – While many digital apps are frivolous entertainment, this one can be a true life-saver. By downloading the free Portage County Emergency Management App, residents can prepare for and keep informed during emergencies, whether they be related to weather, crime, health, environmental hazards or road conditions. It is the first emergency management (EMA) app in northeast Ohio.

The Portage County Emergency Management App was officially launched on November 5 by the Portage County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (PCHSEM) and the Portage County Commissioners, who oversee the county agency.

Amie Cajka, Public Information Officer for the PCHSEM, says the app works on iPhones, iPads, Android phones and Android tablets. The app can be downloaded from iTunes and GooglePlay.

The emergency preparedness app includes access to the agency’s social media feeds on Facebook and Twitter, and the Portage Prepares website. From the app’s main screen, you can access Weather Radio, Shelters, Emergency Information, Portage County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC), Portage County Safety Forces, Damage Reports and more. Its OHGO function takes you to current traffic flow conditions on nearby roads, depending on your location. You can view Daily Situational Reports from various agencies and even create your own eyewitness report on See Something Say Something, a Homeland Security function.

While the app was just unveiled last week, it has been available for download since August, following test runs and trials. Originally, officials had planned for the official public launch around the time of the Randolph Fair, but scheduling issues with the commissioners delayed that.

Ryan Shackelford, Director of the Portage County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, explained that the app does not automatically alert. “All alerts are submitted physically by myself or my social media staff. I would only submit an alert if it was a dire emergency… tornado warning, hazmat incident, etcetera.”

Shackelford indicated he had the concept for this app since his previous post with the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. In an effort to provide local tools for community outreach, Shackelford recognized, “Everyone seems to use a smart phone and download apps. I thought it would be a neat way to make our office more visible to the community and provide a wealth of information in one location. The outcome is to have a reliable source of information that people can use to know the resources they have available locally. The resources can help prepare and protect their families before, during and after emergencies.”

The app cost $6,000 to develop and was funded in part through a $3,000 Special Projects grant from Ohio Emergency Management. It will cost Portage County $2,400 annually to maintain.

The app was developed by myEMAapp.com, a division of OCV LLC, a custom iPhone and Android app developer for Emergency Management Agencies around the country. Jeff Baxter, a former Portage County resident, is a communications strategist for OCV LLC. During development of the app, Shackelford worked in coordination with Robert Walker, Chair of  the Portage County Emergency Management Advisory Committee and Chair of the Portage County Local Emergency Planning Committee. He is the Emergency Medical Services Coordinator of University Hospitals Portage Medical Center (formerly Robinson Memorial Hospital).

When asked how this new app would have come in handy during a previous emergency situation, Shackelford said, “The January 12th 911 outage is a perfect scenario where families could have been directed right to local fire and police agencies for contact information rather than not being able to dial 911 for help.”

Going forward, the PCHSEM  would appreciate feedback from end users on how the app could be improved.  “I hope everyone finds this tool handy and useful,” Shackelford concluded.

Residents with questions and comments should feel free to contact the Portage County Emergency Management Office at the Justice Center building in Ravenna at (330) 297-3607 or toll-free at 1-800-772-3799. PCHSEM Director Shackelford can be reached at rshackelford@portageco.com. The agency website is http://www.co.portage.oh.us/portageprep/ ; Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PortagePrepares; Twitter: @PortagePrep; YouTube: Portage Prepares.