KIDK-TV reported that the school's Geographic Information Systems program can quickly create maps that federal officials can use from cellphones to come up with a rehabilitation plan. Officials in the field can look at the maps to see how severe the fire burned in different areas and compare elevation.
"We've helped out with about a half dozen fires right now in this fire season," said Geographic Information Systems Director Keith Weber. "We practiced with the Crystal Fire in 2006 as we were building this thing and we also practiced with the Charlotte Fire."
Grant money from NASA pays for the program, called the Rehabilitation Capability Convergence for Ecosystem Recovery. The money is used to find out which areas have a high risk for fire, examine invasive weeds that move in after a fire, and study what livestock grazing does to the land.
Officials said the system cuts the time it takes to build useful maps from days to 35 minutes.
"I think it's really important," Weber said, "but all the stuff that we're doing is to support the fire managers and firefighters."
The system combines GPS location information with graphical information, Weber said, comparing it to how a cellphone can be used to navigate in a city.
"All the stuff that you're seeing, the streets, the buildings, that's GIS," said Weber. "The instructions, 'Go one-quarter mile and turn right?' That's all GIS."
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