Monday, December 23, 2013

The State of SARGIS in 2013

2013 was a great year and the SARGIS Membership has grown to +500 members! 
See the live map and add yourself by entering your coordinates

Let's take a look at some highlights from 2013 (let me know what I missed):

January the GISCorps began a pilot project to train their members in MapSAR and ArcGIS for WiSAR 

February Great discussion on the use of timelines in SAR planning

March IGT4SAR Tabletop exercise and training in Morgantown, West Virginia - Jared Doke released his MS Thesis on Lost Person Behavior in Yosemite - GISCorps MapSAR Training in San Jose, CA

April 5th Annual SARGIS Meeting in Denver, Loren Pfau presented on his graduate work - MapSAR Training in Bellevue, Washington - Don Ferguson gave a lecture on SARGIS at George Mason University 

May Paul Doherty defended (successfully) a SARGIS dissertation at UC Merced

June Rick Laing shared his research on Missing Person Data for Alzheimer Patients in British Columbia. Sierra Madre SAR teaches MapSAR at the MRA Conference in Arizona.

July the second SARGIS User Group meeting was held at the Esri International User Conference

August NAPSG SARGIS Training in Connecticut

September SARGIS is presented at AFAC2013, Melbourne Australia - MapSAR is adapted by NSW and Victoria Rescue teams in Australia. Sierra Madre SAR teaches MapSAR at SAREX in Santa Cruz County, California.

October MapSAR is updated for 10.2 - MapSAR Training & Presentation at SARScene2013 in Chiliwack Canada

November Training videos for IGT4SAR and MapSAR are released. George Durkee taught online classes at Columbia College (GIS Essentials for SAR and Agency Operations) and hands-on coursework as well.

December CalOES agrees to recognize the GISCorps MapSAR Trained volunteers as State mutual aid resources! There will be a swearing in, early 2014.

Marcus Kitchens and myself standing in front of Don Ferguson's Travel Cost poster at the Esri UC

Finally, many of you were involved in supporting SAR missions on-site (US, Canada, and Australia) and remotely. Some of note are the Conn, Greene, and Lagrée

What would you like to see in search and rescue GIS in 2014? 

  • Organization: A more formal SARGIS organization? A non-profit body? Or continue to remain a discussion group?
  • Training: More on-site training? More online training? More training videos? More training manuals? More Field Guides / SOPs?
  • Discussion Group:  Would you like to remain on the Google Group discussion list serv? Any suggestions for another forum? 
  • Platform:  As we see more use of web mapping and ArcGIS Online in emergency management, is that something you all want to know more about? How about connected / disconnected workflows? The integration of other devices?
  • Assistance: Should we continue to discuss active search operations in the Discussion portal? If so - should we assign roles to make sure information is kept clear and concise?
  • Research: There are many great research activities going on? How should we continue to formalize this and make sure the link between academia / field is strengthened?
  • Annual Meeting: Where shall the 2014 SARGIS Meeting be held? Remember our spatial requirements (<30 miles from a microbrewery and a National Park).
I am very curious to what you all have to say! 

Photo from one of our first meetings, Yosemite Valley 2010
No matter what we do, remember to recognize all of the hard work that has gone into this SARGIS movement. MapSAR, IGT4SAR, SARGIS Best Practices material, are all done by VOLUNTEERS! Without the partnership and support from government agencies (NPS, NSS) and other NGO's (GISCorps, NAPSG, MAPS) - none of this would be possible. If you want to help put together a training event or Regional meeting, please do offer your assistance. 

MapSAR Training in San Bernardino, December 2013

A SARGIS Legend moves Grandpa Land!

On a related note, I am sad to say - Tom Patterson will be retiring from Esri to focus on what is most important in life, being a grandpa : ) Tom has spent his entire adult life trying to help others in the world of wildland fire and search & rescue. Thank you for your service Tom, the words GIS and SAR would probably still not appear in the same sentence without you. I hope we can continue to make you proud and best wishes in your well deserved retirement.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Active Search Operation in Martinique

Benoit Lagrée disappeared Saturday, November 30, 2013 in the forest of Absalon in the north of Martinique. More details available here: Comité de soutien pour Benoit Lagrée

View Larger Map

Map created by Don Ferguson using IGT4SAR / ArcMap

Friday, December 6, 2013

MapSAR Training in New Mexico

Learn how to use MapSAR and GIS for Search Operations


Participate in the first MapSAR Training in New Mexico! The training is designed to help participants learn how to use MapSAR – a GIS (Geographic Information System) application – for improving Search and Rescue (SAR) efforts. Prior GIS experience is not required to participate in the training but we recommend strongly that those without GIS experience complete ESRI’s free ‘Getting Started with GIS’ web course prior to attending the training. The MapSAR Training is composed of three parts:

  • Friday, 01/17/2014, 1530-1700: Seminar, GIS for Search and Rescue
  • Saturday, 01/18/2014, 800-1700: MapSAR Tutorial, Yosemite National Park Scenario
  • Sunday, 01/19/2014, 800-1700: MapSAR Workshop, New Mexico SAR Scenario 

The seminar on Friday is open to the public. However, registration is required for the trainings on Saturday and Sunday and space is limited. So, register now by submitting the attached form! 

Cost: $0; computers, software, and training materials will be provided 
Location: New Mexico State University, Breland Hall 185 & 194, Las Cruces, NM 88003 Contact: Michaela Buenemann ( for registration details

Due by December 15th, Go to the Registration Page

Participants will be selected from all registrants to ensure that the class is composed of SAR team members from across New Mexico as well as a mix of people with SAR and GIS knowledge and skills.  If vacancies occur, participants on the waiting list will be notified at a later time. See the NM SAR Council Calendar page.

Monday, December 2, 2013

GPS for SAR Resources

Now what?
Lately, I have received many requests for GPS Training, Tips, and Tricks for Wildland Search and Rescue. 

Lorri Peltz-Lewis (USFS), Kathy Hansen (NPS), George Durkee (NPS), Tim Smith (NPS), Kevin Davis (NPS), Edan Cain (Esri), Bernie Szukalksi (Esri), Ian Batley (Mapping and Planning Support Team - MAPS), the Open Street Map Team, Don Ferguson (IGT4SAR) and Jon Pedder & Arnold Gaffrey (Sierra Madre SAR) have all pitched in and shared their ideas. So I thought I would compile these here. Thank you all for your comments!


There are many options, but I thought I'd list the ones that were most recently discussed. Most of the SAR Teams I have worked with use Garmin GPS - but the bottom line is any GPS Receiver / smartphone should be able to create gpx files which are inter-operable with the solutions discussed here as well as proprietary software like Terrain Nav Pro, Maptech, etc.
  • DNR Garmin  is free and has been used by Wildland Fire GISS for many years. It has a small learning curve but allows for direct connect to GPS and directly imports / exports to ArcMap. This is still the best option, in my opinion. Here is a short video by George Durke. 

  • GPS Babel is also free and does everything DNR Garmin does and more... steeper learning curve for sure
  • Garmin Basecamp free and easier to use than most other GUI I have seen. Obviously only works to connect with Garmin units. This may be the best solution when you want to split GPS / GIS tasks and are limited on GIS trained staff.
  • ArcGIS Explorer - Edan built this tool a long time ago and ArcGIS Explorer has native GPS support in it's final release AGX 2500.
  • [Updated] Open Street Map is another way to map your GPS tracks and also contribute to basemaps that work across platforms, including ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Desktop. Download the ArcGIS Add-in to download vector data and work disconnected with this resource: ArcGIS Editor for OSM.
  • [Updated] EasyGPS I have not used this yet but it looks promising and has good reviews from our 'mates down under. The website says "EasyGPS is the fast and easy way to upload and download waypoints, routes, and tracks between your Windows computer and your Garmin, Magellan, or Lowrance GPS. EasyGPS lists all of your waypoints on the left side of the screen, and shows a plot of your GPS data on the right. Use EasyGPS to back up and organize your GPS data, print maps, or load new waypoints onto your GPS for your next hike or geocaching adventure. EasyGPS works with every popular handheld GPS receiver, and it is 100% FREE!"
  • ArcGIS Online this is actually very easy to use but NOT to be used for long term GPS management and only works with an internet connection. If you are just looking for a quick GPS import or to make a mash-up with your tracks. Below is an interactive map with some of my favorite running routes.

Data Management

The MapSAR team has adapted many GPS data management techniques from the National Wildfire GIS Standard Operating Procedures - but we are open to any tips and tricks you all might have as well.
  • Using GIS in WiSAR text discusses GPS data management in detail in Chapter 6: Integrating GPS and Current Technologies into SAR Operations 
  • Folder structure used by George Durkee - this has not been adopted as a standard but might be helpful starting point. From George "I've created a stripped down version of the MapSAR folder structure by removing the MapSAR for ArcGIS 10 files. This keeps a logical folder structure along with suggested naming conventions that Paul developed. It also includes the Excel file 2013_SAR_GIS_FILE_NAMER.xlsx Vanessa did. This customizes and standardizes file and folder naming for anything you need on a SAR. If you're not using MapSAR, the folder structure is pretty darned good for organizing not only your SAR files, but gives you an idea of how to organize all your geospatial files."
  • MapSAR can connect to a GPS directly if tracks are stored on an SD card, very easy to use with Edan Cain's GPS Add-in that comes with MapSAR. Either way - once GPX files are accessible, this tool is the best way to get your data into a geodatabase. Watch video here. To export to GPS tracks - you CAN export to .kml and use software that allows .kml to the GPS receiver.
  • IGT4SAR similar to MapSAR, but specific to IGT4SAR is the ability to determine a theoretical Probability of Detection from the GPS track. This provides a verification for the estimate of POD provided by the teams. IGT4SAR allows for native feature to .gpx. See comments from Don below.
  • Feature to GPX Add-In (by Kevin Hibma) for ArcMap can be installed, but you need to convert polygons to line first . There is an open ArcGIS for Ideas open on the topic and you can go here to vote for it's implementation. 

Training and Cheat Sheets

Since so much of what we are trying to do in SAR has already been done by the fire service - Kathy and Lorri have forwarded some more helpful resources for your team.

  • GPS Training from NWCG The class that Kathie Hansen developed and continues to maintain. 
  • GPS Pocket Cards have tip sheets for the following Garmins:  MAP62, 60CS, 76CS, 76S, Montana, and Oregon  If you have a Rhino it is very similar to the 62
  • GPS for Download Tag George says "This form is intended for use as SAR teams turn in their GPS. You fill out the form of the team, then put it and their GPS in a plastic bag for later download and keeping track of their GPS. The team can either be debriefed or go get food. Also attached is WAYPOINT FORM_Draft2.pdf. This is for field teams to fill out when they establish a waypoint (clue, LZ etc.) etc. on their GPS. Turned in on debriefing, it allows the GIS person to know what the Wapoints are they download."
No GPS? No dinner!

Well - this is a start. Please send more resources to the SARGIS Discussion Group and/or make comments below. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Happy #GISDay from Kenya

Team - 

Today is GIS Day around the world and it has been a very busy year. I am here at ICCM 2013 and learning a lot about what everyone is doing in the CrisisMapping community. 

Most recently the Philippine typhoon and MidWest tornadoes have GIS specialists across the globe working in conjunct with the CrisisMapping community to support response agencies. 

Here are some examples of maps being produced for the Philippines response: 

I'd like to recognize the great work of the GISCorps and MapAction this year and look forward to the building bridge we have built between the SAR and GIS professional community.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Tropical Storm #Haiyan / #YolandaPH map resources

View Larger Map of tweets validated through the MicroMapper platform and mapped by GISCorps. For more maps and apps click through the gallery below. 

As Tropical Storm Haiyan / Yolanda makes it way into mainland Asia, the relief efforts are fully underway in the Philippines. I wanted to take a moment here and point out some maps and resources that may be of interest to the Search and Rescue community. 
The CrisisMapping community is serving the United Nations OCHA and UNDAC Teams with up to date information from a wide variety of sources to provide situational awareness and up to date base data for their maps. Check out these sites and the maps below for more information. We will learn a lot from this event and please keep the Search and Rescue and other teams in mind as they are currently engaged in life saving operations.

Here is a partial list of data sources: 

·        Schools and Hospitals (OSM)
·        Maximum Storm Surge (NOAH)
·        Admin Boundaries
·        Cloud cover (NASA, Nov. 9th)
·        Weather Stations (NOAA)
·        Recent earthquake (USGS)
·        OpenStreetMap

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Search and Rescue GIS Resources for Canada

After our recent MapSAR Training event at SARScene Canada 2013, Rick Laing of Ridge Meadows SAR, Elaine Girrior of Yellowknife SAR, and Peter Devanney of SAR Global 1 agreed to put together a shortlist of resources to start discussion and establish SARGIS collaboration across Canada. Here is what we have put together (this information may be useful even if your response area is outside of Canada).


With regards to basemaps there are many resources available to you already while connected to the internet. For instance, below is a map of all of the Community Maps Program participants who adding even more detail to the World Topographic basemaps. Also within ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Desktop you have access to the basemap produced by the Open Street Map program. 

View Larger Map

To open these in ArcMap simply use the add basemaps function...

Here is a snapshot of some highly detailed data for Coquitlam 

Base Data

There is a whole section about how to organize your Minimum Essential Data in the Using GIS for Wildland Search and Rescue textbook (free download) and also in an earlier blog post "Pre-planning is half the battle". Base data can be tricky for new GIS users because these datasets tend be rather scattered across the internet and are hard to track down if you do not already work with a GIS Specialist. But we thought we would point out some Canada-specific data sources for all of you here.  

In many cases this will require you to download the data in various formats, unzip the data, add it to your map, and style it appropriately. 

Creating a layer package clipped for your specific area is a great way to keep these data portable and organized. When you unpack them they keep your geography and symbology and can be stored locally, on a portable drive, and ArcGIS Online.

ArcGIS Desktop for Nonprofit Organization Program by Esri Canada. Go to the website and Request Application for Membership

  • $100 for ArcGIS Desktop (administrative fee)
  • Designed for small ground SAR organizations in Canada 
  • Organization can not be a Nationwide and/or Government owned agency
  • Community Based Non Profit Volunteer Organization (with or without a CRA#)
  • Must be associated with SARVAC, CASARA, or Northwest Territories
  • CRA Charity registration number - not needed, simply note your relationship with SARVAC

Download MapSAR template for ArcGIS Desktop from

MapSAR is a free tool that runs with ArcGIS 10, 10.1, and 10.2 to store geospatial information, enabling SAR maps to be generated, stored, and printed quickly so that search teams can get out the door faster to look for the missing person.

Join our Discussion Group!

A group for National Park Rangers, Sheriffs, Mountain Rescue Associations and other emergency service people to discuss and help others use and implement GIS (Geographic Information Systems) technology in SAR (Search and Rescue), emergency and day to day operations. Central to our group’s goals is to make GIS techniques and technologies more accessible to non-specialists. Towards this end, we have continued to explore techniques and technologies that can create a more streamlined workflow and effective situational awareness when using GIS. 

What's next?

From here we hope the real discussions can begin. 

  • Should there be a Canada SARGIS User Group? 
  • Where will the next MapSAR Training be? 
  • How can base data and even pre-planned operational data be stored and shared for teams to utilize (see example)?
  • How do I meet local GIS Specialists and work with agencies already using GIS in my area? 

In the meantime, please do visit the NAPSG MapSAR and IGT4SAR for online training videos and stay informed via the SARGIS Discussion Group. Don just uploaded a video that highlights the importance of minimum essential datasets and breaks down some GIS basics here in this video:

Let's continue the discussion and collaborate around this topic. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

#MapSAR in Canada - Resources and Updates from @SARSceneCanada

From SAR Scene 2013, Chilliwack, British ColumbiaFor those of you interested in using GIS for Search and Rescue in Canada, we have some resources for you. 

1) Find out about the ArcGIS Desktop for Nonprofit Organization Program by Esri Canada. Go to the website and Request Application for Membership

  • $100 for ArcGIS Desktop (administrative fee)
  • Designed for small ground SAR organizations in Canada 
  • Organization can not be a Nationwide and/or Government owned agency
  • Community Based Non Profit Volunteer Organization (with or without a CRA#)
  • Must be associated with SARVAC
  • CRA Charity registration number - not needed, simply note your relationship with SARVAC

2) Download MapSAR template for ArcGIS Desktop from

3) Join our Discussion Group!

Also while at SARScene a few exciting things are happening. Rick Laing and myself just taught a MapSAR Workshop and tomorrow I will give a presentation on Using GIS in SAR and Rick will be on a SAR Technology discussion panel.

There are already talks of a MapSAR training event next year in British Columbia, location TBD (and perhaps Banff as well). 

Right now - we are integrating MapSAR with ArcGIS Online via the ArcGIS Collector and Operations Dashboard. Below is a view of the action from our web map. Stay tuned for more (including a post within the next week about how to obtain base data for building your minimum essential datasets). Please comment here or on the discussion group if you know of some great place to acquire Canadian base data (trails, roads, hydro, topo etc.) or datasets that you desperately need for your area.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Remedy for Your Basemap Blues

Problem: Slow Maps

So you are on a search and rescue mission using ArcGIS Desktop and while panning and zooming around the map, you are continuously waiting for basemaps to "re-draw". You can't guarantee an internet connection so you want to utilize your local data.

 Solution: Basemap Layers

Some nerdy GIS talk from the help documentation: "Basemap layers are a kind of map layer that provides a framework onto which you display your dynamic operational information. Basemap display performance is very fast. Since basemap layers are relatively static and do not change frequently, their display can be computed once and reused many times. The first time you visit an area at a particular map scale, basemap layer display is computed. The display is recalled on return visits to that area and map scale."

It is FAST! So let's get started.

Step one - Cartography

So this step will vary based on what you use as basemaps for your area. A long time ago Liz Sarow from Esri showed me how to make a nice hill-shaded topo from publicly available data. For California here are some resources:

1) Topos available as Digital Raster Graphics
2) 30m Digital Elevation Models available as Images (or these can be made with any DEM using the Hillshade tool)

The next trick is to add these to your map and style appropriately. I personally use a hillshade-on-topo "sandwich" - but I set hillshade properties as transparency of ~55% and Resample to bilinear interpolation.

Map sandwich!

Step two - Add a New Basemap Layer

Right-click the data frame name in the table of contents and click New Basemap Layer.

Adding a new basemap layerThe new basemap layer in the table of contents

Step three - Select the Layers 

Select the layers that will comprise your basemap and drag them into the basemap layer.Now you have a topo map that also highlights the terrain in your area - more importantly we can now pan and zoom around the map without waiting for redraw.

Please see the help document for more information. You can download my example as a tile package here and the try the steps above.

Other recommendations

  • Create these and store them for your areas of operational responsibility so they are ready to go ahead of time. These can be stored locally and remotely using Dropbox or ArcGIS Online.
  • Do not add any vector layers to your map that you plan on tracing for editing or clicking for attributes - this removes data access. No big deal if you do, just remember to pull the layers back out of the Basemap layer when you need them.
  • Whenever possible - use ArcGIS Online basemaps, they render quickly and feature more often updated content than your old topo and trail maps. See the World Topo Community Basemap and Open Streetmap 
  • RTFM Read the Free Manual: there are lots of other tips & tricks you can use in the ArcGIS Help documentation. Also - join our discussion group and ask the SARGIS geeks yourself! 

Monday, September 30, 2013

#MapSAR now available for ArcGIS 10.2

Jon Pedder from Sierra Madre SAR just released a version of MapSAR that will work on ArcGIS Desktop 10.2. MapSAR for 10.2 will be posted to ASAP but it is also available for download from ArcGIS Online from the WiSAR Applications Group

For those of you interested in contributing to the MapSAR Project by testing the template or developing tools, please see the MapSAR GitHub repository. 

The goal of MapSAR is to help: 

  • Create and edit field task assignments
  • Monitor progress of assignments
  • Support logistics/communications
  • Document clues, team location and status
  • Incorporate GPS data
  • Store all incident data into a single repository
  • Create and print maps

If you are unsure if you have access to ArcGIS Software and work on a volunteer SAR Team please see the Esri Non-Profit Organization Program. If you feel you may not qualify for this program please send an email to Free training videos are also available on the NAPSG YouTube channel.

Great work Jon and Team for getting this version out!

Also - I have added a download page for a set of ArcGIS Explorer Desktop tools here: Search and Rescue Tools for ArcGIS Explorer Desktop. Please see this page for more details.

***Update - I just updated the item page for downloading MapSAR 10.2, apparently some tools did not zip up. Also, this version can be used for 10.1 as well. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

#MapSAR Training modules kicking off right now

Jon Pedder and Art Fortini are here at the Sierra Madre SAR Cache in California launching the MapSAR training modules via webinar: Training Announcement 

Thank you NAPSG for all of your support!

NAPSG will make the training videos available (
and I will announce the location here. For those of you assisting with the flood response in
Colorado - please be safe and let us know if you need our help.

UPDATE: If you missed the event or want a recap - the slides and video are posted here: 

Friday, September 13, 2013

2013 Colorado Flood web maps #COFlood #BoulderFlood

An incredible amount of rainfall in the State of Colorado has led to flash flooding, evacuations, and unfortunately, the loss of life. I have embedded a flood monitoring map here below which is produced by the Esri Disaster Response Program (Disaster Assistance for GIS and Mapping). You can go this website and embed a similar map yourself by using the "Link" Button. 

Another great resource for maps and information for weather in the Denver Area is Brendan's Weather Blog. He produced this next map and I encourage you to check out his site. From his blog: 

"CoCoRaHS is an excellent non-profit community based network of volunteers collecting rain, hail, and snow data. The data is used widely across multiple agencies from the National Weather Service to city organizers. Please visit their site if you are interested in getting involved. 

Here are three day totals from CoCoRaHS observers in Colorado. Anywhere from .5" to 10" being reported since Monday, with many 6"+ reports from the Boulder flood region." 

If need maps for your area, check in the Gallery below. 

Or choose from this list

US FEMA Flooding Situational Awareness Viewer
US Flooding Public Information Map
US Flood Web Map
Colorado Flooding Impact Map
Weld County
Aurora, CO
Loveland, CO
Boulder, CO

Finally, this map below is a Story Map, which highlights the different regions and perspectives regarding this flooding incident. You can access the interactive map on the Esri Disaster Response Program website.

For more information try these websites

  • Boulder Office of Emergency Management Status Update
  • Boulder information and issues call: 303-413-7730
  • City of Longmont Emergency Information
  • Weld County Flood Map
  • Longmont Information and Issues call: 303-651-8595
  • Colorado Department of Transportation road conditions map
  • Boulder Flood CrowdMap