Wednesday, May 28, 2014

MapSAR Training - Ft. Smith, AR

This training event was a success! GIS and Public Safety professionals from three adjacent states (MO, OK, AR) learned how to use GIS for Search and Rescue - but more importantly they were all in the same room together meeting face to face.

After dealing with some serious weather related obstacles during my trip (diverted to College Station and spending the night in Houston), I finally made it to Fort Smith. Luckily Mark, Marcus, and Caroline were ready to present the tutorial and get started without me.

On Day 1 we covered the Yosemite Search tutorial and helped everyone get familiar with the MapSAR interface. Once students had their initial setup configured they were off and running - making their first maps. Who knew unzipping folders could be so much fun?

On Day 2 - Wes Cleland presented a local fictional search scenario that would involve a multi-agency response and the students had to respond with MapSAR on their own. This reinforced what was taught on Day 1. We also covered the overall topic of using GIS for SAR with local media in attendance which was a great opportunity to do some outreach. 

Finally, in the afternoon Wes reviewed a recent missing aircraft / pilot search with a very personal and thoughtful tone. He explained some of the challenges they faced and what was learned during this process. ArcGIS online was used during this operation to collaborate / coordinate planning and operations - but not until the search was well underway.

This led to a great discussion about how to better prepare for search operations. All in attendance agreed a follow up meeting is needed to outline the core workflows (define search boundary, segment the map, make common maps available to general and command staff) and information products required for search operations. It is also important to draw commonalities with disaster response, such as the recent tornado in nearby Mayflower / Vilonia, Arkansas. For me, getting to see this in person was very compelling.

Key lessons learned:

1) Have incident templates and minimum essential datasets ready to go before the incident. This seems obvious but experiencing the time wasted in the process made this very clear.

2) We need to create a visual information product "menu" that non-GIS responders can choose from early on in search operations then order the resources needed to create them (investigators, experts, GIS staff). This will help prevent information overload or misuse of resources.

3) There is a great deal of potential for using cellular phone / tower for search operations - but a synthesis of how to use this information is not (yet) available to the community. 

I am sure those of you in attendance have your own thoughts and I'd love to hear them in the comments below.

Thank you to the students and their agencies, the Esri Disaster Respinse Program, the Esri St. Louis Refional Office, the University of Arkansas, the GISCorps, and the National Alliance for Public Safety GIS for making this possible. 

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