Oswego County’s 911 system is getting more accurate data so dispatchers can help police, fire and ambulance crews go to exactly the right place.
The help is coming from an unlikely source: Students in the Hannibal Central School District.
Those students are part of the school’s Geographic Information Services (GIS) program. GIS projects link all kinds of information to specific points on maps. In Hannibal’s case, students pored over aerial maps of nearly 60,000 properties in the county. They placed a dot on each driveway, so dispatchers will know exactly where to send emergency crews.
It’s a trickier problem than it might appear to be, said Mike Allen, the county’s E-911 chief. He cites his own property in Schroeppel as an example. His house has a driveway and a larger parcel that surrounds his home has a driveway that goes deep into a wooded area. If the ambulance turns down the wrong driveway, crucial minutes can be lost.
Trailer parks are another potential cause of confusion.Â So are seasonal camps and the occasional city lot that has two homes on it.
He and county GIS specialist Steve Smith began putting dots on driveways but found, after a year of work, that they had only been able to complete two of the county’s towns. Even so, “we were finding that it was much easier to direct emergency services personnel to that location so we could see the value.”
“By having an actual dot, you know that that driveway goes with that house,” said Smith.
But the prospect of finishing the county seemed daunting. The two men were working on the maps in spare moment, of which there were few.
As luck would have it, Smith attended a GIS event at which Hannibal’s GIS teachers were present. The teachers agreed to take on the massive job of finishing the county maps.
Teacher Greg Bailey, at Kenney Middle School, said about 15 students began work on the project. Gradually, those numbers fell to a handful, along with high school student Adell Ronalds, who is also interning with Smith and handled some higher-level tasks.
“We’re pretty much saving peoples’ lives,” said Brevin Piper, the youngest member of the team, a 7th grader at Kenney. He, Patrick Sullivan, Fred Truax, John Hoyt, Eric Belge and Natasha Waloven worked throughout the year to place points on driveways on the county’s aerial maps.
“It was more interesting because we were learning about helping the community,” said Truax.
The teachers also dug in to place points on driveways. Bailey said he handled the city of Fulton. “I wanted to experience what the kids were experiencing. It isn’t difficult but it is tedious,” he said.
“They know that they’re making a difference,” said high school GIS teacher Carol Burch. “It’s a tangible project. It’s something where they can say I’m helping the community in a real important way.”
Some of the students may be helping themselves as well.
“I’m definitely into GIS and I’d like to make a career out of this,” said Ronalds. “It definitely makes me feel good. I like helping other people.”
“I’ve known Adell for a few years and she’s always been a motivated, mature student,” said Burch. “But I don’t think anything resonated with her like this does.”
The students will be honored for their work by the Oswego County Legislature at its July meeting.