Teacher becomes the student

LA CRESCENTA — Dominique Evans-Bye alternated between bar graphs, geographic maps and spreadsheets filled with population, schools, hospitals, police, fire and rescue locations and resources. Her computer screen had little room for anything else.

In a few clicks, a change of screen, and another couple more clicks, the Clark Magnet High School teacher produced data for hypothetical elected officials or FEMA and Homeland Security Department authorities. With some further work, she'd complete a low-level analysis of how a severe hurricane would impact Port Charlotte, Florida.

With the training, Evans-Bye will be ready to expand on the school's geographic information curriculum, where students use complicated computer data models to predict outcomes from natural disasters.

"It's used in every field you can think of," she said. "City planners use it to figure out transportation routes, or where to put a new school, or emergency resources."

Evans-Bye is part of a small group being trained with software used by the federal government to study how communities would be affected by floods, fires, earthquakes and more.

It's called "disaster mitigation," and the goal is to build communities smartly and lower the chances of loss of life or property damage in a disaster, said Vanessa Glynn-Linaris, the FEMA-certified instructor who led the course.

"They are trying to prepare the kids to enter college or getting careers," she said. "They can give something back to the community in risk assessment."

It's part of a geographic information system industry, a growing sector of the economy, which is one of the reasons Evans-Bye helped establish the program at Clark Magnet High School.

The campus was closed for nearly a week last year because of the Station fire and subsequent rainstorms.

"Disaster … plans could be shared with city officials or for the kids living in this part of the city," she said. "Maybe they would set up a plan at home in case of an emergency."

By 2011, the three-section course will add an advanced-level planning course, which students can pursue as a career, said Shawna Dark, an associate professor in the geography department at Cal State Northridge.

"Job growth in this area is ridiculous," she said. But "most high schools do not teach geographic information systems. It's rare."

Through her own classroom experience, Evans-Bye said she hopes students can help create risk-management projects for their school or neighborhood — the same work done by government officials and private companies.

"The biggest challenge is getting [teenagers] to make connections between what they're learning in high school and their career path," Evans-Bye said.

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