3 students use technology to map fire districts in West Carroll Parish

Mary Ann Van Osdell, Benedict, Linda F., Barnes, James, Frazier Jr, Ralph L.

News Release Distributed 11/13/09

OAK GROVE, La. – Three West Carroll Parish high school students learned enough sophisticated computer technology that they were able to create digital fire district maps, which will be used to improve safety in the parish.

They learned to use Global Information System (GIS) technology in a special training offered through the LSU AgCenter’s Delta Rural Development Center here.

Over the past few months, students Seth Strong, Dustin Waits and Charles Dupree from Forest High School collected data points for every fire hydrant in West Carroll Parish. They then created digital maps and gave these maps in the forms of framed posters and CDs to fire chiefs in the eight districts in the parish.

“When the community wants something to happen in the Delta, it happens. This will save property, time and most importantly, lives,” said Dwight Landreneau, LSU AgCenter associate vice chancellor.

“We can have a map of every district for our automatic aid agreement. Shared information is always a good thing,” said Mike Berry, fire chief in Forest.

Waits said he had a good feeling about doing a project that can save lives, and Strong said he will add the project to his resume and plans to major in civil engineering in college.

Strong and Waits initially got involved in the training through a 4-H Junior Leader activity a couple of years ago organized by R.L. Frazier, who at that time was the LSU AgCenter 4-H agent in West Carroll Parish.

Frazier wanted to introduce the 4-H’ers to geospatial technology and devised a project in which the students used hand-held GPS units to find objects he’d placed in a field next to the LSU AgCenter Rural Development Center.

“We met in the evening because I wanted it to be dark so all they had to guide them was a handheld GPS unit and a flashlight,” said Frazier, who had placed the objects within a 100 yards of a bonfire he was building.

He gave them the longitude and latitude points, and the group was able to find the objects, which unexpectedly included hot dogs and marshmallows for roasting at the fire.

Meanwhile, Frazier’s responsibilities changed, and James Barnes, the director of the Rural Development Center, got involved. Frazier is now the county agent in Madison Parish with a specialization in precision agriculture and geospatial technology.

“They got the bug,” Barnes said of the keen interest Strong and Waits showed in the technology, and he took them to a 4-H technology training session in Baton Rouge in early 2008.

The next project was for the boys – now joined by Dupree – to map the fire hydrants.

To support their efforts and provide a small monetary allowance, Barnes secured some funding through Sen. Francis Thompson, Sen. Mike Walsworth, Rep. Bubba Chaney, Rep. Sam Little and Don Terry at Entergy.

“This is amazing what these students have accomplished,” Barnes said. “If we were to hire this done by consultants, the cost would be too great for these parishes in northeast Louisiana to bear.”

Barnes said the students are now working on project in which they are using geospatial technology to map the cell phone signal strength in West Carroll and East Carroll parishes.

“This will be useful information because if we know the extent of broadband coverage in these parishes, then businesses can be encouraged to take advantage of this and improve their business,” Barnes said.

“These are above-average students,” Frazier said. “They’ve learned math, science and technology skills, which will benefit them and have benefited our communities.”

Mary Ann Van Osdell and Linda Foster Benedict

11/14/2009 1:30:59 AM
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