Our nation has been assailed by many natural disasters in the past two months. My home state of Alabama was ravaged by vicious tornadoes on April 27. During the search and rescue process, I learned one way that real estate agents can assist in the process.
On April 27, 2011, Tuscaloosa, Alabama took a direct hit from an F5 tornado, devastating the city and the area where it struck. Homes and buildings were removed, and the area looked as if it had been run over by a large lawnmower. Many people lost their lives during the storm.
Within a few days, I received a call from a Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s deputy who was assisting the local EMA in tracking down property owners in areas affected by the storm. He asked if I was Jonathan Goode, and I said “yes”. He said there was a property listed as “Goode Investments, LLC.” that had been damaged by the storm, and he was calling to ask if I am the owner. I told him I was not, and asked him how he found my name. He said he did a google search for “Goode Investments in Alabama”, and came across my name. At once I realized what an unlikely task this man had of tracking down property owners by google search. So I told him to give me one second and I would try to help him.
I pulled up Tuscaloosa County’s Tax Assessor’s GIS website, which is called emapsplus.com. I clicked on maps, and Alabama, and then to Tuscaloosa County. I gave him a 30 second tutorial on how to search by property owner or by address, and he was instantly enthused at how this would improve his searching ability. The information provided by the tax assessor often includes the owner’s name and mailing address, but often leaves out the telephone number. By cross-referencing the information provided in emapsplus with a site like whitepages.com, it is possible to find out the best way to contact owners of properties affected by storms.
After this experience it dawned on me that the people tasked with finding these property owners were probably not given very good tools to do it with. Why would a sheriff’s deputy know about the county tax assessor’s GIS site? So I wanted to put out a call to all of our real estate agents, tax assessors, and EMA agents to let you know that it is possible to cooperate in a meaningful way to help track down property owners. In an effort where efficiency means minutes and minutes can mean lives, we need to use the expertise we have to aid the work of emergency officials. I hope to get this information to our local and state EMA offices before they need to put it into practice again. It could save resources, time, and even lives.
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