Among the world-class presenters at this year’s Southeastern Geologic Conference will be Leah Keith’s students from Red Bank High School (Chattanooga, TN). Their topic: Using GIS/OSM to prepare communities for natural catastrophes.
Considered experts in this field, Leah’s students learned these skills following her example. A geologist by trade, Keith was the first teacher ever accepted into UT-Chattanooga’s Tropical Island Ecology & Geology program. Using a Fund for Teachers grant to join the program’s work last summer, she canvassed 10,000 individual homes, businesses, schools and churches on three Caribbean islands to gather demographically-correct data for use post-hurricane.
Armed with this information and expertise, Leah now teaches students how to conduct scientific research inspired by hands-on humanitarian work. Last fall, students constructed San Salvador’s first maps with geological and demographic information for use in crisis management and by ambulance and postal services. Students download aerial images, run them through Open Street Mapping (OSM) software, then label cemeteries, driveways, schools – anything to help first responders get their bearings and locate victims.
“They now ‘do’ science for a purpose,” said Leah. “They realize that mapping an area to know where people live is ethically and morally important. Their work can help save lives in the aftermath of a natural disaster.”
At the regional Geological Society of America conference this March, Leah’s students will discuss their maps of San Salvador, as well as maps they created for first responders’ use during landslides. Future projects include working with professional cartographers to map escape routes for Syrian refugees and villages in the throes of the Ebola epidemic. To facilitate this work, Leah’s class was awarded a Teacherpreneur Grant from PEF Chattanooga to purchase drones for future mapping projects.
“Kids won’t work for themselves, but will DO ANYTHING for others,” said Leah “My students go on to college knowledgeable of GIS and OSM applications. Their professors say ’Kids aren’t supposed to already know how to do this’ and they reply ‘You don’t know Ms. Keith. She assumes we can because no one told us we can’t.’”
For an update on Leah’s students and their role in disaster relief and recovery, click here.