Montana State University

MSU GPS Lab

Montana State University
PO Box 173120
Bozeman, MT 59717-3120

GPS Lab Manager:

Diana Cooksey
Tel: (406) 994-5684
Fax: (406) 994-3933
E-mail: dcooksey@montana.edu
Location: 245 Leon Johnson Hall

E-911 Mapping Project


An award-winning program

Diana Cooksey and her Global Positioning System (GPS) mapping students have formed a successful partnership with the City of Bozeman Fire and Geographic Information System (GIS) Departments, which combines community service with hands-on learning in a real-world project. The partnership has been so successful, in fact, that it won an international award for innovation in the Fire Service.

The Fire Service Excellence award, which was accepted by Fire Chief Chuck Winn at the International Association of Fire Chiefs meeting in Denver in August 2005, recognizes innovations and achievements in managing resources to reduce the loss of life and property from fire and other emergencies. The MSU/City of Bozeman partnership took first place out of 500 applicants from around the world!

The project also won the 2014 Montana State University President's Award for Excellence in Service Learning. This award recognizes a faculty member and community partner who have together engaged students in quality service learning. Through service learning, students apply their academic skills and knowledge to address the genuine needs of a community organization. This provides students with a deeper understanding of their studies and fosters a stronger sense of civic responsibility. More information can be found here: MSU honors top faculty and staff.

Click here to read an excellent student article about the E-911 mapping project.


Project abstract

Since Fall of 2003, students in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences (LRES) have been mapping high-density housing developments for the City of Bozeman to assist in emergency response. The maps, carried in the fire engines and incorporated into the Enhanced-911 (E-911) computer system, allow firefighters to quickly locate emergency sites, thereby decreasing emergency response time and increasing the chance of saving lives and property.


Project description

Explosive growth in the City of Bozeman is outpacing the Fire Department’s ability to map and learn the layout of new developments. This is especially a problem in high density housing complexes (condominiums, apartments and mobile home parks) with many structures at the same physical address. When responding to a medical or fire emergency, it is difficult for Fire Department personnel to locate a specific dwelling when they are unfamiliar with the complex. The difficulty is accentuated by the fact that, in these high-density housing developments, building numbers are often arranged in an illogical manner. For example, some buildings in a particular complex have apartments numbered in order from top to bottom, whereas other buildings in the same complex have apartments numbered from bottom to top. Additionally, the buildings themselves are often arranged in a seemingly haphazard order, making them difficult to find, especially under pressure at 2:00 in the morning.

Students taking GPHY 357: GPS Fundamentals and Applications in Mapping are given the opportunity to map these high density housing developments for their semester mapping project. The E-911 system links an address and a set of GPS coordinates to every telephone number, so when a person calls 911, the dispatch center automatically receives this location information. In turn, the dispatch center pages emergency responders, providing the address of the emergency, the type of emergency and a specific page to reference in the Fire Department map book. Unfortunately, many new complexes in the City of Bozeman remain unmapped because the Bozeman Fire and GIS Department budgets do not allow for equipment and software purchases, and training of personnel in map development.

The students’ maps help firefighters find specific buildings within a complex and determine the quickest route to the dwelling with the emergency. This has decreased response time, eliminated confusion, and literally can mean the difference between life and death for an emergency victim. In several cases, firefighters have used the student-generated maps to facilitate quicker intervention, allowing them to provide advanced life support to critically ill patients. For the developments that have not yet been mapped, the story is quite different. In one recent instance, firefighters responded to a high density housing complex to a report of smoke inside a structure. Had a detailed map been available on that day, firefighters could have shaved several minutes off their response time, making the difference of saving a home from fire.

Since this project started in Fall semester 2003, 128 students have participated in the project, working in teams of two or three to produce maps of 74 high density housing developments (as of Fall 2012). And, the project is gaining momentum: each semester a greater number of students choose to participate in the project. In Fall of 2012, the E-911 mapping project was offered as an additional 1-credit service learning course. Students see the project as a way to learn valuable skills to help prepare them for their upcoming careers. Also, because the data is in digital format, it can be incorporated into the Mobile Data Terminals (MDTs) installed in the fire engines.