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SAR teams - feedback wanted

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SAR teams - feedback wanted

Postby mattyj » Sun Jan 03, 2010 5:56 am

I know there are at least a few members on this site who volunteer on SAR teams.

As a software engineer, it always helps to have a side project going to learn new stuff, doubly so when your day job isn't anything sexy. In order to learn about mapping APIs (and a bunch of other stuff), I created a tool to address some of the issues I've seen on searches, and I'd like to "shop it around" and get some feedback. Basically, if it's a practical, workable solution that will be adopted by teams, I'll keep working on it. If not, I'll probably spend my energy on a standalone mapping page that's more applicable to the general public.

In a nutshell, I've seen a lot of unnecessary time wasted developing situational awareness. Time spent trying to figure out where regional park trails go on a USGS topo map. Time spent trying to take a spot on a topo map and find it in an aerial photo. Time spent in the field trying to determine which of two ridgelines you're actually supposed to be on. And so on.

To address this, I've created an app that stores search assignments as a known set of coordinates and can display them over a number of different map types, export them into your favorite topo software or google earth, download them to a GPS device, etc. It's a web-based application, but you need to download it and run it locally, since the long term plan is for it to work in the boonies with a slow or nonexistent internet connection.

What I've built isn't a tool for rescues, or for the Nth sprained ankle or heatstroke injury on a popular tourist trail. It's usefulness is proportional to the number of searchers involved and inversely proportional to the familiarity of the terrain - depending on the sort of incidents your team typically handles, it may be incredibly useful, or not. Here in the Bay Area, it's not uncommon for a large operation to have 100+ searchers from multiple counties in a largely unfamiliar area.

Instructions on how to download and run the app are available at http://code.google.com/p/sarsoft/wiki/Installation, and you can find a bunch of screenshots at http://code.google.com/p/sarsoft/wiki/QuickTour. If you have any familiarity with Search & Rescue, regardless of your ability level, I'd appreciate it if you would download the app and play around with it for a few minutes. If you think it's useful, encourage others on your team to do the same, and post feedback in this forum or in a PM to me.

Thanks!
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Postby Greg Enright » Sun Jan 03, 2010 8:12 am

I did search management for many years, and without spending a ton of time on your app, I can think of a few quick items. I only looked at the screenshots. They look pretty good, and I imagine you have it set up so the planning folks don't need to be computer geeks to get the maps drawn.

I like the overlay of the park map on the topo. If the 'park' maps are accurate and to scale, that feature could work for ski areas as well.

When sending teams out for major searches, I liked to hand out one page, the assignment detail page, with everything that I thought the field team needed to know. The call sign for the field team, how they were to be transported to the area, the field team's operational frequency and other freq's used for the search, nearby search teams, prior searches of that area, hazards typically encountered in that area, special equipment needed for the assignment. I'm sure I'm leaving something out, but I don't have any of the forms handy. Could your assignment detail page include such things, and could it be printed out at a search base to hand to a team?

Would your maps be printed out in a SAR base for distribution to teams heading out to search? Could that be done without overwhelming the laptops and printers in base? I also tried to give the team a map that included many search assignments, so that they could be redirected to another assignment after finishing the first.
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Postby mattyj » Sun Jan 03, 2010 9:32 pm

Greg -

Thanks. For printing, yes, I don't have a screenshot of it, but it prints out an HTML imitation of the BASARC SAR 104 form (basarc.org; the downloads link is broken right now), which has the information you listed. Right now we have the form printed on 4-copy carbonless paper, and fill everything in by hand. The thought is that you'd load several sheets of blank carbonless paper into a printer, the form would get printed out onto it with some fields already filled out, and you'd fill the rest in by hand, like we do now.

Yes, the maps would be printed out at a SAR base. This is already done in smaller volume on searches I've been on - we print out a bunch of topo maps using TerrainNavigator or Topo! or some such, and then draw the assignment by hand on it. My cheapo desktop printer can knock out 4 sar 104 forms and a couple of maps pretty quickly, and I know a couple of the counties around here have comms buses with nice high-speed color laserjets. With our current setup, I think recentering & zooming the topo software for each assignment is the bottleneck, not printer throughput.

For the parks I've looked at, the trail maps are dead on, but the nice thing about them is that they're pulled from the OpenStreetMap project. If they're inaccurate or incomplete in your area, you can have someone mountain bike them with a GPS unit (ahead of time, obviously), upload the tracks, and the trails get updated.
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Postby Greg Enright » Tue Jan 05, 2010 6:49 am

Sounds like you have a good setup for printing the maps and forms. I think your mapping app would be handy in many situations. Hopefully you can get other team members trained to use it, so you can go into the field.
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