ESRI Features EAST Collaborative Project

   

8/12/2013 3:11:16 PM

County recognized the need for all public safety departments to have access to accurate and current data on all of the available helicopter landing zones in the area. Students in the school's Environmental and Spatial Technology (EAST) program were eager to help the county identify and map acceptable landing zones.

The rural area of northwestern Arkansas boasts a wooded, mountainous terrain that has enticed many to call the region home, making it the sixth fastest growing region in the United States. However, the very elements that make the area appealing also contribute to the difficulty its citizens face in a time of emergency or disaster. Boone, Carroll, Searcy, and Washington Counties make up the 3,000-square-mile region, and all are inhabited by citizens who are dependent on helicopters to evacuate the area during a natural disaster or medical emergency. In turn, the helicopters are dependent on a 10,000-square-foot unobstructed area for their landing zone. With vast stretches of land that include lakes, rivers, and hills, it is critical that emergency workers know the location of usable helicopter landing zones.

Carroll County recognized the need for all public safety departments to have access to accurate and current data on all of the available helicopter landing zones in the area. Although many of these departments already had their own coordinates for local zones, there were discrepancies in their information. The Carroll County 911 Department turned to Eureka Springs High School in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, for help. Students in the school's Environmental and Spatial Technology (EAST) program were eager to help the county identify and map acceptable landing zones. The EAST Initiative is a nonprofit organization, operating in more than 200 high schools in seven states, that emphasizes using advanced technology applications to conduct community service projects. Led by Mila Powell, EAST facilitator, at Eureka Springs High School, the Eureka Springs EAST students excitedly put their skills to work for the community. The program, which covers an array of technical disciplines, included GIS/GPS projects that prepared the students for the rigorous emergency evacuation landing zone project. With a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and the additional forces of neighboring EAST students in Alpena, Fayetteville, and St. Joe, the students embarked on their journey across the northwestern Arkansas land armed with Trimble GPS units and ArcView and ArcEditor software.

"Once we started the project, we wanted a lot of sharing of data as well as sharing of skills among the students," says Powell. "There were different lists of landing zones in the area from different sources. We set out to combine the lists from firefighters, paramedics, helicopter evacuation services workers, county officials, and 911 personnel. Our original task was to combine all these lists into a centralized database using the ArcGIS software we had already used, so we invited different people from these organizations to our EAST conference at Eureka Springs in October 2003 to explain what we wanted to do. We quickly discovered that almost all of the coordinates they had were wrong; we're talking more than 750 coordinates in Carroll County alone."

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