EAST COBB, Ga. — If you recently struggled to find toilet paper for sale in your local store, you’re not alone. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the supply of paper products has been unable to keep up with the demand. But, thanks to a program developed in Cobb County, the search for things like TP is a little easier.
“We developed it all in house with our staff,” Jenn Lana, Cobb County GIS manager, said. “We already had the software, so it didn't cost us anything extra to do this.”
GIS stands for Geographic Information System, which is a framework for gathering, managing, and analyzing data. After seeing the chaos caused by recent shortages of essential items, Lana and her team decided to help.
“Whenever all of this started, people were looking for things like toilet paper or where to find prescriptions,” she said. “I was seeing a lot of this on Facebook, and a lot of our team members were as well. So we were like ‘well if everybody is looking for this, why don't we help them out by building a crowdsource app?’ So we started out just saying ‘hey if you have seen these essential supplies, you've been to the store, can you help us and fill out the survey so we can tell other people where to go to get it?’”
One of the goals, Lana said, was to cut down on traffic in certain areas. Another goal, she said, was to help people who needed it the most.
“There's a lot of people who could not get outside of their house,” Lana said. “So we did not want them going to 10 different stores to find something that they might need. Hopefully, this would eliminate some of those multiple trips to different places, and it gives them an opportunity just to go where they need to go and get what they want.”
It started with a simple survey, asking questions about when and where the shopping was done, was people social distancing, etc. Then, there were questions about product availability.
“It started as a crowdsource app,” Lana said. “We asked for input from our citizens, and then as we started getting more and more, of course, I wanted to put that on a map, so they knew where these stores were, and then give them directions to get to those places.”
From the crowdsource app, it expanded into a map, then eventually a full-blown website, she said. Before long, it was benefiting people in other communities, not even in the state of Georgia.
“We initially made this just for our citizens to help our neighbors, and it just kind of went wild, which is amazing,” Lana said. “The company that we deal with ESRI, it's an international company. They actually turned our project into one of their COVID templates for international users to put in place for whatever community they may be in. So a really small project has turned into a great one that's helped a lot of people beyond Cobb, beyond Georgia, to get resources.”
She said she’s proud of her team for all the work that went into this project.
“There's a lot of people in our group that have put this together and made it happen. We have such a great team and we should be proud of it,” Lana said. “I studied geography end geology. You really don't get into those fields to make a lot of money, especially in a local government perspective. You do it to help people, so to have this go beyond our borders, it's pretty amazing.”