4/27/11. This day is etched in my mind forever. I was a college student at the University of Alabama and I was fortunate enough not to be in the city that day, even though I wish I were. I wanted to be there to help my roommates, to help my neighbors, but God had me somewhere else, and I imagine if I had been there, I may not be writing this.
I remember going back to my house in the Forest Lake area, and missing the left turn to 15th street because I did not recognize it. There were no addresses; there were no recognizable landmarks.
I eventually used the maps on my phone and the compass in the dash of my car to find what was left of my house. I sat in my old college house for an hour, thanking God, looking at the destruction, and realizing how bad it could have been. In Tuscaloosa alone, 50 people lost their lives, and the path of the tornado left many more without homes.
I remember seeing a pine tree that had been blown through my bedroom window, then continued to slice through my room into the kitchen wall. Our roof was completely gone except for one single rafter that incredibly still had the ceiling fan attached to it. I thought how crazy it was that a tornado seemed to pick and choose what it wanted to suck up into the violent winds and what it left behind.
After seeing the devastation across the whole city, I thought to myself how does a city rebuild after this, how do you get organized? I came back a few weeks after the tornado and the city had already begun the clean up and rebuilding process, and I was surprised at the perseverance of not just Tuscaloosa but the state of Alabama. I am so thankful for how the people rallied around each other, and brought us closer together as a state.
I had no idea I would be working for a company that helped in the rebuilding and operations after the destruction. Wolf-Tek had just started in 2011 and thank God they did. They were in Tuscaloosa and across the state after the storm, locating properties you couldn’t find because the destruction was so widespread.
They took the concept of mobile GIS and made it a useful tool in a natural disaster scenario. They helped people locate the property lines, the roads, and what was left of people’s homes. They helped in the re-building process; they helped Tuscaloosa get back on its feet. The mobile GIS Wolf-Tek created help map the paths not just for the Tornado in Tuscaloosa but across the state.
Wolf-Tek has shown me that the apps and tools they have can be implemented for emergency services, and have continued to work with police departments like St. Clair County in using mobile GIS. I got to see the work of mobile GIS from afar while seeing Tuscaloosa being rebuilt as a student, and then got to see the inside workings of this system when I began working for Wolf-Tek.
These are tools that can help rebuild, and even locate people in need. The tornado scratched a path in much of Alabama, but I can say that no matter how bad that tornado was; the people I work for, Tuscaloosa, and the state of Alabama has learned from it, grown from it, and have been made more resilient because of it.
I am thankful to work for a company that wants to improve the steps of preparing and acting in situations like the disaster of 4/27/11. The tornado had a major impact on my life, and I have learned from it, and want to make sure that others are prepared and looked out for when the next disaster happens.
I will always remember the day, the prayers I said, and give thanks.