Ill. High School Students Study Fire Department and Dispatch Center Data
Jacksonville Journal-Courier, Ill.
Apr. 26—A Jacksonville High School Geographic Information System class is putting together a data set that it hopes will benefit the Jacksonville Fire Department and West Central Joint Dispatch Center.
The small class of around 10 seniors met Wednesday with West Central Joint Dispatch staff for a quick tour and demonstration, but also to get questions answered about data they have been collecting. Their teacher, Jim Chelsvig, said the project was born from a desire to put a geographic mapping system to real-life use.
"We want to put the GIS to work in the real world and, as part of our study, we were working with a lot of fire data and we hadn't done anything like that before in the course," Chelsvig said. "We thought this might be something unique and original for Morgan County."
The class got in touch with Shawn Artis, Morgan County's GIS coordinator, who put them in touch with West Central Joint Dispatch Center. Center staff, in turn, provided the students with fire response data from across its service area‚— such as call response time, fire location, time to dispatch and time to arrival.
The class then compared the Morgan County data to GIS data collected from fire departments across the country.
"We go and get the data. Then we try and decide, 'What are we going to do with it?'" Chelsvig said. "That's where we're at, at this point. We have big ideas with what we wanted to do, but we wanted to talk to people with an intimacy with the data to kind of guide us a little bit so we don't miss something."
Students met with dispatch supervisor Dana Blakeman and Phil McCarty, Morgan County emergency management director, to talk with them about what kind of data they collect and to get an idea of what kind of data might be useful to them.
There's generally a need for fire data and alarm data, particularly when it comes to deciding how to respond to emergency situations, McCarty said.
"There's a huge push in emergency services to (study) the GIS data because we can use the GIS data to predict," McCarty said. "We know where the population is and where it's not. We know where the impact is and the federal government uses it for a lot of their planning. We can say, 'OK, if this happens in this area, we will know what routes to use for transportation and supplies'. The GIS market from where it was five years ago to where it is today is 300-fold."
The trip helped the students connect what they have been learning in class—how to use GIS to capture and analyze data in a geographic way—with real-world applications being used both locally and nationwide, Chelsvig said.
For senior Luke Hewitt, the project turned out to be more daunting than he initially thought it was going to be.
"I think it was a lot bigger than we thought it was going to be," Hewitt said. "We initially anticipated a smaller number of points than we got, so we have to work through a larger amount of data than we were expecting. I think it's more interesting to us, too, than doing (projects based on) data in Texas or somewhere. It's something that's personal to us because it's here in Jacksonville and Morgan County."
Senior Anna Pevey agreed with Hewitt.
"I don't think we anticipated how broad a spectrum GIS influences," Pevey said. "The fire department, the police department, the EMT and ambulances."
Students will spend the last few weeks of the school year finishing up their analyses of the data with a goal of compiling it into a presentation they can give the city with insight into how well the city's fire stations are covering their service area.
"We'll be looking at the perceived time from the point of the fire stations and distance to the actual call to see how well-placed those fire stations are," Chelsvig said. "It sounds like they're right on target, though."