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.