Tuesday, December 4, 2012

“But I don’t work in a connected environment!”


Over the past year we have worked with Search and Rescue (SAR) volunteers at various training events (NASAR / MRA Conference, National SAR Academy, California SAREX, SARScene Canada) and presented on the topic of Using GIS in Missing Person Search Operations. We have been using a particular fictional case study – the Clark SAR – to practice new workflows built on the principles taught in Using GIS for Wildland Search and Rescue and for testing upgrades to MapSAR (an ArcGIS Desktop template designed for SAR, go to www.mapsar.net for more details).

Here is the scenario.

“The Search and Rescue team in Yosemite National Park, California has received a call about a lost hiker who was last seen at the Sunrise High Sierra Camp. He was scheduled to meet his companions at Vogelsang High Sierra Camp last night at 8 pm but never arrived.  Today, at 07:00, they reported him missing.  His companions said his travel plans were to hike from Sunrise to Merced Lake High Sierra Camp and stay overnight; and then hike the following day to Vogelsang High Sierra Camp and stay the night.”

Lesson 1: You can/should have your data organized in a way that supports both connected and disconnected workflows

First of all, when a report comes into the Ranger or County Sheriff office, most likely you are sitting in front of a web browser. To plot the point last seen or initial planning point you can use an ArcGIS Online web map like below.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="580"]Image ArcGIS Online Web Map for editing Initial Planning Points for situational awareness across organizations.[/caption]

With the new geoservices added to the locate tool in ArcGIS Online and the new design to the ArcGIS Online World Topographic Map it is easy to find an area by points of interest. If I already have an editable feature service for Missing Subject Information I can quickly enter essential information right on the map.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="436"]Image Editable feature services like this could be hosted by County, State, or Federal agencies so First Responders and SAR Volunteers can quickly document missing person information.[/caption]

Now I will add some trail data to the map by searching ArcGIS Online, add a map note of the initial search area, and upload the first hasty search team GPS track to my map by adding a gpx file directly to my web map.

Before I leave the office for the Incident Command Post (ICP), I will need to download my Minimum Essential Dataset for Search Operations for use in ArcGIS Explorer Desktop and ArcMap with MapSAR just in case we do not have internet connectivity at the ICP and we do not find the missing person right away.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="580"]Image Minimum Essential Datasets are discussed in the Using GIS for Wildland Search and Rescue text (free download from www.MapSAR.net).[/caption]

Lesson 2: You can collaborate with an intermittent or improvised connection

Now, while I am at the Incident Command Post (ICP) the Chief Ranger and the State Emergency Management Agency can see my initial planning map. A GIS Specialist trained using the MapSAR User’s Manual can see this map as well and begin working on assignment maps and spatial analyses.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="580"]Image Here an ArcGIS Online Group is being used to manage GIS data and applications for managing a search operation.[/caption]

At the ICP, I am waiting for internet connectivity, but still working on tracking clues as they come in over the radio plotting them by their coordinates, gps files, or geotagged photos using ArcGIS Explorer Desktop.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="580"]Image ArcGIS Explorer Desktop is a free and easy to use GIS-based software that is useful in the initial planning stages and throughout a SAR Operation for situational awareness.[/caption]

When the first Operational Period is over I can share all of the operational data as a layer package with my GIS Specialist through ArcGIS Online or an email – if internet connectivity is still an issue I can send a thumb drive to the office (or coffee shop with WiFi) and have someone upload it from there. In exchange – the GIS Specialist has sent me a large format briefing map, the Day 2 assignment maps, and even created an Incident Action Plan (IAP) web map.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="580"]Image Here is an assignment produced by Don Ferguson via remote collaboration during a table top exercise last month.[/caption]

With assignment maps like these I can get teams out into the field with timely and accurate information!

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="580"]Image This IAP map can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection using a web browser or ArcGIS Online Mobile Applications.[/caption]

Lesson 3: Plan for the future or you won’t be ready when the future happens

At the end of Day 2, we have not found the missing subject. However, we have a few clues and investigative leads that help us prioritize our search area.

In addition, because we have created a detailed IAP map the Chief Ranger and State Emergency Management Agency have agreed to send us more resources. However, with more boots on the ground and helicopters in the sky, more data flows through the Incident Command Post. A GIS Specialist is en route to the ICP to help with data management and cartography using MapSAR. Meanwhile, a remote GIS Specialist continues to produce probability models based on the data coming in. All of this was made possible because we leveraged a centrally managed ArcGIS Online account meant to prototype a Federal or State Agency with volunteer SAR Team as members.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="580"]Image Here is a prototype ArcGIS Online Account that could be used by Emergency Management Agencies to support volunteer SAR Teams with Minimum Essential Datasets, Incident Groups for sharing data and maps, and editable feature services for up to date reporting.[/caption]

While this is just a training scenario, what he have learned is already being put into practice in the United States and Canada, join the SARGIS Discussion Group to find out more. Working in disconnected environments can be a major challenge for communication in all aspects of operations but that does not mean you do not have access to professional GIS tools and personnel. Subscribe to the Esri Public Safety Resource Center as we add more disconnected mapping applications and tools to simplify GIS workflows in the future. If you are a volunteer SAR Team, visit the Nonprofit Organization Program for more details and stay tuned for an announcement related to getting professional GIS help for your SAR Team. Are you ready for the future of Search and Rescue?

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