A trio of Kansas State University researchers, using Geographic Information Systems technology, is collaborating with the state Department of Health and Environment and other state agencies to help find appropriate sites for disposing of a large number of livestock carcasses in the event of a disease outbreak or bioterrorism attack.
The researchers are Shawn Hutchinson, assistant professor of geography and director of K-State's Geographic Information Systems Spatial Analysis Laboratory; John Harrington, professor of geography; and Lori Emerson, a graduate student in geography, Manhattan.
"We're acquiring the necessary information in digital form within our Geographic Information Systems and building a model that can help find a suitable site for burying a large number of livestock," Hutchinson said. "Given the type and size of the animals, we can determine the size of the burial pit, then use Geographic Information Systems to automatically search for the best place to dig."
Hutchinson said potential burial sites also must meet environmental criteria from the Department of Health and Environment. The criteria are to minimize future environmental problems related to the burial and deal with such things as soil type and quality, topographical slope and human population density.
According to Hutchinson, the system will help people make quick but informed decisions during a time that could be very stressful.
"We have a pretty good idea of the environmental conditions that would be best and worst for carcass disposal," he said. "We don't want to contaminate water resources; sites would preferably be far from population centers; and sites must not compound other problems, such as the viability of threatened and endangered species."
Most of the data has been collected from every county in Kansas, Hutchinson said. "The objective of this project is to develop a system where all we have to do is hit the button on the computer and the Geographic Information Systems can spit out a map based on good science that can assist emergency managers on the ground who will eventually have to decide where to put the burial sites."
"The nice thing about Geographic Information Systems technology is that it allows you to examine a bunch of different data simultaneously that you really would have a hard time doing with individual maps," Hutchinson said. "That's essentially what we've done here: Collected a map layer of soil, population and all the other 12 or 13 criteria that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment has developed, and basically overlaid them using computer software. It allows us to examine the geographical aspects of multiple factors that are important in making decisions about finding the best isolated areas."