Dougherty Co. tragedy spurs creation of TornadoFree app

Dougherty Co. tragedy spurs creation of TornadoFree app
The app went live this week (Source: WALB)
Those who lived in the park have downloaded it (Source: WALB)
Those who lived in the park have downloaded it (Source: WALB)

DOUGHERTY CO., GA (WALB) - A personal drive to keep tenants safe in the wake of the January tornado pushed one Dougherty County mobile home park owner to search for a solution.

Big Pines owner Pat McKee said his property was a total loss, but, even worse, three people died during the disaster. He vowed to never let that happen again.

"It took out anything in its path," McKee said.

Mobile homes, cars and massive pines were all twisted.

"This is what an F4 or an F3 tornado does to a property," McKee said, looking over the Holly Drive mobile home park.

The storm did more than just leave the land decimated.

It took the homes of more than 100 families living in Big Pines and the lives of three people in the park last January.

"I just sat here and cried," McKee said. "I spent several sleepless nights trying to figure out a solution for this."

Tenants even approached McKee to ask how he could make things safer.

So, he got to work and decided he'd make an app for that.

"We're just going to do a quick little test," McKee said, sounding off a tornado alarm. "That's the sound you'll hear."

A sound emitted from the TornadoFree app that those who were in harm's way may be all too familiar with, but one McKee hopes will save lives.

"All of our community tenants are already downloading it," McKee said. "It's being downloaded coast to coast right now."

But it wasn't developed overnight.

"It will operate in the background and whenever you're in the path of a tornado, it comes on," McKee said. "You don't have to do anything except press 'map me out'."

McKee, his team and scientists built a working program around the concept that, if apps can be created for drivers to avoid traffic or speed traps, they can direct people away from tornadoes.

"Now, we have 9 minutes and 52 seconds before the tornado will hit us. We're going to map ourselves out," McKee said, explaining the app. "It takes us three minutes to get out of the way. We're going to press 'go'. We are now set and mapped out of the path of a tornado."

A simple process that could to be invaluable if the skies darken again.

The app just went on the market this week. You can now download it for iPhone or Android. Several thousand people have already done that.

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