Tuesday, November 24, 2015

SARGIS7 Report

Thank you to all who participated in the 7th Annual Search and Rescue GIS Workshop on November 12-15 in Sonora, CA. The workshop was a resounding success for all participants. Special thanks to the NAPSG Foundation and Columbia College's budding GIS Program (see more about Columbia College GIS).

We are pleased to announce that the workshop materials are now available online at http://www.napsgfoundation.org/resources/materials-available-search-rescue-gis-workshop/.The Agenda posted here includes links to the materials used during each session and training for easy navigation and access. 

Additionally, we have also posted the After Action Notes from the breakout sessions on the last day, Nov. 15 at the link above. By SARGIS8 - the SAR Working Group plans to make progress in four key areas: 
  • Guidelines for GIS in SAR
  • Tools and Resources
  • Training  
  • Technology Integration (Cell Phone Analysis, Unmanned Aerial Systems, etc.) 

Who was there? 55 participants, mostly from California but also scattered across North America.

Here are some photos of the action.

Don teaching IGT4SAR to a full classroom

Lorri presenting on where to find base data

Why use USNG? - Talk to Cole

Hands-on with USNG

Beautiful setting - Columbia College

Action Items!
Sneak Peak of the Map Products "Menu" for Responders and Decision-Makers Link: http://bit.ly/SARGISMenu

See more:

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

SARScene 2015 and Washington DC Trip Report

As I fly back to California, I reflect on a fun and productive week and a half.

Last week I attended the 2015 SARScene in Prince Edward Island, Canada. On Thursday, I helped Norman Deschamps teach a workshop on SAR Explorer (SARX) which had students from multiple provinces. All students agreed they will use SARX for future operations and want to learn more about MapSAR and IGT4SAR for advanced mapping. Norm really broke it down and made it easy to follow, great course.

Then on Friday night, I helped "Team SAR" put together some solutions for combining an online / offline platform for hasty search response. This included a wireless server that can work without internet for signing in volunteers and providing them with a pdf map. When they return within range of the wifi router, it will automatically grab their gps track data. This solution was named "Blue Diamond" and created by Michael Coyle, Thierry Des Trois Maison, and Cameron Dykeman (the night shift). Agata Lawrynczyk built her first ever web mapping application (using ArcGIS Online Web AppBuilder) which contributed to MapSAR Online version 4. This app allows you to very quickly plot the initial planning point, draw an assignment, and print a map. Very simple, but very useful. In the end "Team SAR" won the hackathon!

The GitHub repositories for each solution are public here:
  • Blue Diamond https://github.com/SARscene
  • MapSAR Online https://github.com/pjdohertygis/MapSAROnline
MapSAR Online can produce a quick map and connect first responders with GIS Analysts working remotely.

After a traditional maritime "kitchen party" on Saturday night in PEI, I said farewell to my Canadian counterparts, and continued on to meet with colleagues from the National Alliance for Public Safety GIS Foundation in Washington D.C. There we met with representatives from the FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Team and the National Association for Search and Rescue. As an outcome, the NAPSG Search and Rescue Workgroup now has an informal partnership with FEMA and NASAR to share best practices and hopefully form a more strategic partnership in the future to support the development of standard operating guidelines, symbology tools, and training. 

Needless to say, it was a big month for GIS in SAR. More announcements to follow at SARGIS7, see some of you there!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

SAR Mapping Course @SARSceneCanada

For those of you who are going to Canada's National Search and Rescue Conference in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island October 22-26, 2015, (SARScene) we just want to give you a heads up that there will be a workshop on Thursday, October 22 devoted to mapping and GIS specifically for search and rescue location data management. The course includes almost three hours of hands on tutorial with SAR Explorer (SARX), as well as demonstrations of using MapSAR and ArcGIS online for more collaborative SARGIS data management efforts. 

The description of the course, and a link to the course description on the SARScene 2015 website are at the end of the post. There are still about a half dozen spots available in the workshop, so if SAR GIS is your thing, don't miss out!

SAR Mapping - http://www.sarscene.ca/2015/training_e.asp
It is not too late to sign up for SARScene - Registration Page / Renseignements

In this course we will share best practices for using mapping technology and the power of geographic information for both short-term and long-term search operations. We will discuss three technology options in detail and you will learn some hands-on skills. This course is a great opportunity to learn how to use software that provides virtually everything a team needs to mange spatial information during a search operation. Even if your team has already chosen to use a different mapping platform, this session will still be valuable as a way to expand your knowledge on efficiently managing GIS (geographic information system) data during a search.

  • Norman Deschamps - Search Manager and GIS Analyst, Tri-County Ground Search and Rescue Association, New Brunswick
  • Paul J. Doherty, PhD - WiSAR Specialist, National Alliance for Public Safety GIS Foundation
Location: Rodd Charlottetown - Georgian Terrace
Time: 8:00 - 16:00
Norman Deschamps, creator of SAR Explorer
Paul Doherty, SARGIS enthusiasts

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The 7th Annual Search and Rescue GIS Workshop and Meeting #SARGIS7

The SARGIS Working Group within the National Alliance for Public Safety GIS Foundation will be hosting the 7th Annual SARGIS Workshop and Meeting (#SARGIS7).

Read the report and access the final agenda, presentations, etc. at: http://wisarandgis.blogspot.com/2015/11/sargis7-report.html

To Register: http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?oeidk=a07ebj3nub834a6869b&llr=nplxpbdab

Where: Columbia College in Sonora, CA
When: November 12-15, 2015

Cost: Free 
Workshop: The workshop will include a 1.5 days of hands-on training with ArcGIS Desktop (MapSAR_Ex / IGT4SAR) along with GPS field exercises. There will also be a lesson on how to use the free ArcGIS Explorer Desktop app for basic SAR Mapping (SAR Explorer) and SARTopo.

Meeting: The meeting will have a keynote address, presentations, and discussion forums. This event will focus primarily on using GIS best practices for missing person search operations, but will address diverse topics such as:
  • Review existing GIS and mapping tools for SAR
  • New SARGIS tools (Web GIS, mobile apps, etc.)
  • UAS, drones, and GIS
  • Cell Phone Analysis GIS
  • Remote Collaboration
  • Update from the California GISCorps
  • Standards for SARGIS symbology, SOGs, training, etc.
  • Urban Search and Rescue GIS
  • Preventative Search and Rescue GIS
Audience: GIS Professionals & Students interested in learning how they can help SAR teams, Search and Rescue personnel (paid and unpaid) who want to know more about GIS for SAR, and other Public Safety professionals interested in attending so they can operationalize the use of geographic information systems.

Agenda (more  details to follow)

SARGIS Training
Pre-req: ArcGIS Desktop installed, Getting Started With GIS Course or equivalent

Morning & Early Afternoon
SARGIS Training
Pre-req: ArcGIS Desktop installed, Getting Started With GIS Course or equivalent
Late Afternoon
Plenary SessionStudents, Professors, GIS Professionals, SAR Professionals, Public Safety Professionals, outdoor recreationalists
A chance to meet the attendees and socialize. Location to be announced (local pub / restaurant).
Presentations and Discussion Forums
SAR Professionals, GIS Professionals
Presentations and Discussion Forums
SAR Professionals, GIS Professionals


HOTEL / MOTEL with Special Rate

Address:  14260 Mono Way, Sonora, CA 95370
Phone:  (209) 533-4971
Website:  aladdininn.com
Distance from Columbia College:  8 Miles / 15-17 Minutes
Cost:  $72 for Thursday Night & $80 for the remaining Weekend Nights for any attendee of the SARGIS7 Conference.


Address:  Reynolds Ferry Rd, Sonora, CA 95370
Phone:  (877) 444-6777
Distance from Columbia College:  9 Miles / 13-15 Minutes
Cost:  $22 per night for Standard Campsite; $18 a night for Walk-In Campsite (No Special Arrangements for the Conference were available)

Address:  11551 Yankee Hill Road, Columbia, CA 95310
Phone:  (866) 677-8464
Website:  marblequarry.com
Distance from Columbia College: 2 Miles / 4-5 Minutes

Cost:  $40 per night for RV; $25 per night for Tent Camping (No Special Arrangements for the Conference were available)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Mapping Technology in Wilderness Search and Rescue

This week Caroline Rose successfully completed and defended her MS Thesis at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I had the pleasure of attending virtually and was extremely happy to see her hard work and innovation culminate in a superb presentation. This blog is just an update to let you know the thesis is available for download and highlight some key findings for the SAR Community.

Where can I find the thesis?
Here is the link to the research website where you can read Caroline's work and download a copy: http://cmrrose.github.io/thesis/

What are the highlights?

Caroline conducted interviews with a representative sample of the SAR community and quantified their responses to address three key research questions.
These are the three primary research questions addressed by Caroline's thesis. 
Here are some key findings (from my point of view):
  • People are still using a wide variety of software for general mapping, GIS, GPS, and web mapping.
  • There are many challenges to using these technologies but almost as many insightful  suggestions on how they could be better utilized in the future.
  • Of all the challenges discussed, availability or accessibility of human resources, availability and accessibility of geographic information, and software usability appear to be of most concern. 
Sankey diagrams are a specific type of flow diagram, in which the width of the connection is shown proportionally to the flow quantity. Here it is applied to the 24 interviews conducted with SAR personnel. It is a way to help you visualize the quantitative data (word utilization) and begin to understand the significance and relatedness of each topic.
If you really do not have time to read the thesis or play with the super cool interactive Sankey diagram - then see an except from the Conclusion below.
One participant stated that “searches are still solved by people out on foot, thrashing around in terrain. GIS is just a tool... it’s not some magic something where technology saves the day.” What GIS technology offers is another tool in the searcher’s toolbox—a tool with unique advantages that no other form of mapping technology can replace. If GIS can help focus resources, spark a key insight, or streamline incident management, it may make an important difference in an emergency situation. As one participant put it, “any tool that is going to be there for the betterment of the search and the potential of saving that life, why wouldn't you use it?” GIS capability also can be a benefit to WiSAR teams outside of the emergent search event, supporting documentation, prevention, and preparation.
The challenges to GIS use in WiSAR are surmountable, and many efforts are
already underway to improve the usability of, provide training in, contribute expertise from, and promote awareness of GIS. There also have been efforts to expand interoperability across mapping technology, working toward what I suggest is the ideal: not one prescribed system, but a range of compatible tools that leverage the benefits of several different forms of mapping technology, scale to meet the demands of an incident, and facilitate data aggregation across WiSAR incidents.
That sounds like a call to action to me!

What does the research mean for the SARGIS Community?

There is a lot of great information extracted from Caroline's interviews that complements the earlier work of Loren Pfau and others. This type of research is really important for informing the SARGIS community on where we should invest our resources. 
  • We need more people trained in GIS and other mapping technology 
  • We need more access to up-to-date geographic information
  • We need more tools that make mapping technology 'usable' 

This thesis, how to take action on the findings, and much more will be discussed at #SARGIS7 in November, details coming soon...

Friday, July 10, 2015

History in the Making: Search and Rescue Working Group (SARWG)

The National Alliance for Public Safety GIS Foundation (NAPSG) and a small group of volunteers produced a charter document to establish a working group under this 501 (C) (3) not-for-profit organization. 

Here is an excerpt.

"The Goal of this Working Group is to create an international network of SAR-based GIS and public safety officials who can share lessons learned, best practices, maps/apps, and other tools and experiences utilizing GIS."

What does this mean?

This means we have representation

After seven years of coming together as a community via the SARGIS discussion group, we finally have an affiliation to connect ourselves to. This will provide support for our yearly meeting through accountable fundraising and help us produce training materials and best practice documents. We can interact with government agencies and tell them who we are and what we stand for.

Plus this will connect us to an international community of GIS and public safety professionals who work on similar challenges may be interested in sharing best practices and collaborating.

Who is NAPSG?

The National Alliance for Public Safety GIS Foundation. 

Their mission is "to support the public safety and homeland security communities in the advancement of data interoperability and information sharing, through geospatial technology, in support of local and national emergency preparedness."

See their website for more information: http://www.napsgfoundation.org/

How can I get involved?

We will continue to use the SARGIS discussion group

Howerver, over the next year we plan to:
  • Host our first meeting, in conjunction with SARGIS7 (date and location TBD).
  • Provide a list of software and training resources on an interactive website.
  • Review the operational and functional needs for GIS in all search and rescue operations.
If any of these initiatives interest you, stay tuned for more information on how to get involved. We will need your help!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Au Québec: A good place to go missing

On May 22nd, 2015 I had the pleasure of attending a meeting hosted by the Sureté du Québec and Université Laval CRG. The topic was using GIS for missing person search operations. We introduced ourselves and quickly began sharing how each agency is currently using mapping for planning and operations. There were over 30 people in attendance from multiple agencies and the faculty at Université Laval. 

Our hosts for the meeting, Alain Croteau and Mir Abolfazl Mostafavi

Here is a quick overview of what was discussed.


It seems many teams were using Touratech for a long time but realized they needed to expand their capabilities because they could not load up-to-date base data into this package. They have since begun integrating with ArcGIS Desktop loaded up with minimum essential datasets.

Here is a short list of the software agencies are currently using.


Here are the most commonly discussed workflows.
  • Printing Maps
  • Displaying Basemaps and Base Data (Doris Poulin, Sgt Surete de Quebec had a very impressive minimum essential dataset all stored locally using ArcGIS Explorer Desktop).
  • Editing Incident Data (Initial Planning Point, Clues, Sectors, Assignments, Search Area)
  • Downloading GPS Tracks

Spatial Analysis

This, for me, was the most interesting part of the discussion. Here are two projects that were discussed.

Estimating probability of area for missing persons with Alzheimer’s (Khaled Belhassine, Alain Croteau, & Mir Abolfazl Mostafavi)
  • A GIS model that will produce a grid in which each intersection (decision node) will be given a variable value based on factual, personal, geographical and statistical information correlated by scientific knowledge. 
  • This tool is still being tested but the preliminary results are promising.
Theoretical Search Area based on missing person profile and travel speed (Miguel Blanco)
  • A GIS model that will produce isochrones for missing persons based on their profile or expected behavior. 
  • Miguel is near completion of his MS Thesis and will be comparing techniques to Doherty et al. 2014 


Despite great advances in the use of GIS in recent years, the group discussed some remaining challenges that I think we can all relate to.
  • Sharing information between teams. They are only having meetings like this every few years and currently do not have a discussion portal.
  • Training. While GIS software is getting easier to use, without specialists on each team, it is hard to get personnel trained and ready for incident response. 
  • Internet Access. While 3G is becoming more widely available, teams still need to have all of the local data stored as minimum essential datasets and cannot yet rely on having an internet connection due to dead zones across the Province.
  • Standards. They face the same common challenge of using multiple coordinate systems on incidents without necessarily having the capability of converting them “on the fly”.
  • Emerging Technology. Advances in technology bring new tools but also new challenges. How do we adapt search planning and operations to live GPS tracking, UAV / drones, and even augmented reality?


I think there are simple ways we can help the Province with some of their challenges.
Also, here is a link to my presentation: http://arcg.is/1dwm0xM 

Special thanks to Pierre and Guillaume from Esri Canada for being there to answer questions and remind the agencies that their volunteers can get access to Esri software through the Esri Canada Non-Profit Organization Program

Overall, I am extremely impressed with the widespread use of GIS for search operations in Québec. I am especially excited about the partnership forged between the Université de Laval and Sureté du Québec. I hope that all in attendance know they are welcome to post questions to the SARGIS Group and will continue to share their techniques with the rest of the community. 

Merci à Alix pour la traduction

Isochrones produces by Miguel Blanco's travel cost model

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Are you using GIS for Search Operations?

This is a short survey designed to help us understand who is using GIS for Missing Person Search Operations and/or looking for more GIS Support. You may answer anonymously, but the geographic information you can provide will be very helpful.  

Please share the survey when you are done. Results will be posted here in the next 30 days.

Thank you for your time and consideration! 

Click on link if survey does not load below or you are using a mobile device: http://bit.ly/WiSARGISSurvey

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Discussion: GIS and Institutional Knowledge in Search and Rescue

Article: Meet Philly’s “Dr. House” of Missing Persons

I just read a short opinion piece in phillymag.com about Mark G. Hopkins, the Search and Rescue Chief of Greater Philadelphia Search and Rescue. Mark sounds a lot like many "SAR Czars" I have met in my life. He's been active for 20 years and he is the go-to person for his local police agency when someone goes missing. This is not because he is easy to work with, but because he cares and knows how to run a search operation.

In this article he makes a call for action - to establish "a base level system that is applied equally to all missing persons". He even wrote to the City Mayor. However, towards the end of the article he states that he will be retiring soon. This is well-deserved for him, but I wonder how his team will cope. Are they planning for his transition?

How many of you know someone like this? When it comes to planning a search, does your SAR Chief embrace the use of GIS for mapping, gut-instinct alone, or a little bit of both? How are you capturing their spatial knowledge before they retire? 

I think the integration of institutional knowledge and GIS is a very important issue to discuss, before all the wise old sages are all gone...

If you are interested here is one systematic (but not always very practical) approach to document historical information from from Yosemite National Park case incident reports: Georeferencing Incidents from Locality Descriptions and its Applications 

However, how can we use GIS to create digital records of institutional knowledge. When someone goes missing from x1,y1 place they are usually found within x2,y2 region because of conditions a,b,c? 

Experimenting with Wacom screens to capture institutional knowledge in ArcGIS, circa. 2009

This is not to say we can create "auto-magical" algorithms to predict where missing persons are, but can we capture the thought process and mental maps of experienced SAR professionals so we can teach the next generation of leaders?

Read the article and then please comment below