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Evacuation changes prompt 'massive hits' on county site

The county's Web site became so overloaded, it was forced to shut down its interactive maps with revised hurricane evacuation zones.

By NICOLE JOHNSON
Published June 17, 2005

  Pinellas County has adjusted its hurricane evacuation zones.
To check your evacuation zone, please visit the county's text-only search

Online inquires about Pinellas County's hurricane evacuation levels flooded the county Web site Friday, when newspaper readers learned that officials had changed the zones for more than 107,000 addresses.

The "massive hits" on the Web site prompted county officials to shut down access to an interactive map showing the evacuation zones, County Administrator Steve Spratt said. A text-only search remains available at www.pinellascounty.org

When the county's Web site coordinator came to work at 7 a.m. Friday, everything was in working order. But by 9 a.m. Michael Roiland realized the system was overloaded.

Roiland suspects thousands of residents had read a Page One story in the St. Petersburg Times or on the newspaper's Web site that the county had changed hurricane evacuation zones just days after more than 300,000 maps of the zones had been released. The story included instructions on using the county's Geographical Information System Web siteto find evacuation levels by address.

On Thursday, the "Evacuation Lookup Link" got about 58,000 hits, Roiland said. On Friday that number was 117,000 by mid-afternoon - close to the demand during an actual oncoming hurricane, he said.

The county web site's map function requires the display of large graphics, which can take time to load. The system was stalled because of a backlog of requests, Roiland said, so he killed the map and permitted only text-based searches of hurricane levels.

"We made the relevant data accessible and made that the priority," said Don Lord, manager of geographic information systems for Pinellas County. "The computer can only do so much at one time...

"If it were a valid emergency management activation we would have known it was coming and configured the system differently to handle the increased load."

But a few hiccups still remained with the text-only version.

"By 2 p.m. it eased up," Roiland said. "I was getting in every second or third try."

Spratt said the changes in evacuation zones stemmed from his staff's decision to notify residents of their evacuation levels in water bills and tax notices. County staffers quickly realized that to get accurate information about each address, they needed to apply hurricane data to another database of parcel-specific information, Spratt said.

When they finished the job, he said, the zones for 107,239 parcels had changed. But the county had already submitted its map of evacuation levels to a regional planning agency, which gave it to the Times for publication May 29.

So about 330,000 copies of the map are now already outdated.

"In retrospect, it would have been good to have had it pop in my head or the staff's head 30 to 60 days earlier," Spratt said.

[Last modified June 17, 2005, 19:04:25]


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