Integrating SARTopo "Backcountry Mapping Evolved" with D4H

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Robin was joined by Meghan and Julie from SARTopo to discuss how Search and Rescue teams use their software for mapping and how it integrates with D4H.

SARTopo is a web-based mapping tool that enables any SAR or first response organization to create maps and use innovative tools to learn more about an area and plan out a mission or response. There is also a recreational version of SARTopo called CALTopo which is designed for recreational adventurers. CALTopo has the same tools as SARTopo, just minus the SAR specific features.

SARTopo is highly collaborative, teams use it to communicate with their command post as well as other field teams. Meghan and Julie gave the example of how SARTopo was heavily used during recent wildfires. The SARTopo team has added a number of map layers this year to help with fire detection and tracking fire progression when it’s moving at a large scale.

With many agencies working together on the wildfire responses the mapping software was used to help coordinate these very complex responses and evacuations. The platform’s new Structures Overlay was used for planning door-to-door evacuations to give an indication of the number of buildings in a given area.

The software can also track searchers in real-time. You can record tracks and report your position directly on the mobile app. This is extremely valuable for teams to be able to keep all of this information in one place on SARTopo, rather than being spread across multiple platforms.

On a SAR mission, you have to identify where a person is not, in order to find out where they are. SARTopo creates powerful visuals by laying search tracks and allowing teams to see what areas have been covered. From there, the command post can direct searchers to new areas. This also makes for much less paperwork and constant radio checks to confirm your location or the status of your team.

When opening up a new search, the mapping software will highlight paths that have been traced in that area, the software pulls this information from multiple databases. This helps to plan out a route to get to a point, you can also drop markers to indicate the location of the incident command post, clues, and points of interest.

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Meghan and Julie demonstrated a search on Forest Service lands and showcased the value of SARTopo’s map layers while doing so. The Forest Service map layer can be accessed through the software and was able to show up mines that planners likely would not otherwise be aware of. This, of course, is very valuable information that could impact a search.

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SARTopo also has a number of live satellite layers available. These can be particularly useful for wildfire responses to track smoke and fire spread. The Sentinel Weekly map layer which is available in SARTopo is updated about every 5 days and covers the whole world to a 10-meter resolution zoom. This is being heavily used for identifying where there is snow in a planned search area, something that is vital to know before sending a team out. Further, adding a false-color overlay will highlight the contrast between areas allowing you to better identify snow, water, vegetation, or fire.

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All of this information is readily available in real-time as long as you have an internet connection. When clues, search tracks, and points of interest are added this will sync for all users. If your connection drops at any time, all changes will store locally and update automatically when you regain data connection.

Teams can also give external agencies access to their searches either by sending them a link or sharing a QR code with them. With the link or QR code, they can also control whether they are granting read-only access or if they are giving them to make updates to the map.

Finally, Robin, Meghan, and Julie shared the plan for increased interoperability between D4H and SARTopo. Currently, you can export your SARTopo map as KML or GeoJSON and then upload and attach the file to your incident or training exercise in D4H.

Some of the items on the roadmap for the two systems include authentication that would allow users to sign into SARTopo with their D4H account. Secondly, we intend to automate the process of archiving SARTopo maps into D4H after a mission has concluded. Thirdly, we plan to create the ability to import your SARTopo map into D4H Incident Management so that it can be used as a resource during a large scale incident, allowing organizations to manage all of their ICS paperwork from one single platform.

You can watch the full interview and demo on our YouTube channel, or you can listen on Bravo Zulu the official D4H podcast.

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