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GISCorps volunteers assist in a Search & Rescue pilot project in California

Update – January 2014

On January 23rd, 2014, Search and Rescue GISCorps team members were sworn in as disater service workers

Thanks to the hard work of the GISCorps and California Office of Emergency Services, members of the California GISCorps SARGIS pilot program have been sworn in as Disaster Service Workers (pending background and paperwork processing). This means that the GISCorps members trained in MapSAR and other SARGIS tools can be called up as mutual aid resources by the State to help with missing person searches, recoveries, and any type of disaster where a GIS resource is needed. Read and learn more about MapSAR and GISCorps’ involvement in this blog and also from GISCorps MarSAR webpage.

From left: Dave Hanson, Brian Quinn, Lorri Peltz-Lewis, Brian Collins, and Paul Doherty. Swearing the volunteers: Matt Sharper, the CAL OES SAR Coordinator


In late 2012, GISCorps received a request for volunteers from a consortium of GIS and Search and Rescue (SAR) professionals from Sierra Madre Search and Rescue Team, Esri, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, Yosemite National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, and Mountaineer Rescue Group who have developed a Search and Rescue application called MapSAR. The consortium requested assistance to fill three GIS Specialist positions to support a pilot project in California using MapSAR. Those three positions were: GIS Trainers, GIS Practitioners and GIS Developers. The detailed job description for each position and other additional information is included in this document.


A photo of participants at the most recent MAPSAR training workshop in San Bernardino

Following a state wide recruitment, eight volunteers responded to the call and five of them headed to an onsite training shortly after. All eight volunteers are committed to stay with the project and assist in SAR missions in their designated areas. The pilot project will soon be expanded to other states and countries. The following report was prepared by Lorri Peltz-Lewis and photos were taken by Tom Patterson.

These two documents provide detailed information about MAPSAR application

By: Lorri Peltz-Lewis, GISCorps Volunteer

The November call for volunteers resulted in quite a few interested participants. The goal was for the team to learn the MapSAR application developed by subject matter experts and transfer this technology to SAR teams in California. The pilot project requested assistance in the positions of MapSAR Trainers, Practitioners and Developers. A weekend training class was held in San Bernardino, CA in December and the team held its first conference call in mid-December. The team is currently ramping up on understanding the needs of SAR, establishing the team, developing a plan for next steps, getting established in the California Emergency Management (CALEMA) Mutual Aid system, and meeting with the SAR Coordinators.

MAPSAR application interface

The current list of volunteers (all from California) includes: Catrina Chirstian, Brian Coward, Steve Gay, Lori Gustafson, Chuck Gooley, David Hansen, Lorri Peltz-Lewis, and Brian Quinn.

Dave Hanson (GISCorps volunteer) at MAPSAR training workshop

Lorri Peltz-Lewis at MAPSAR workshop

The MapSAR User’s Manual is available from HERE.

If you are interested in this project and/or would like to participate, please see MapSAR for free ebooks and software or contact Lorri Peltz-Lewis (

GISCorps volunteers receive “Special Award” to celebrate after the workshop. Standing from left: Brian Coward, Dave Hanson, Steve Gay; seating from left: Lorri Peltz-Lewis and  Lori Gustafson.

Summary Report on GIS Presentations at California Parks Training on February 27, 2013

By: Dave Hansen, GISP

I came, I saw, I spoke. Tom Patterson and Chris Cruz captured their imagination. The three of us are involved in the GISCorps pilot project on MapSAR and search and rescue in California. These presentations are part of the overall outreach for the GISCorps pilot.

This is an annual conference for staff of California State Parks and regional and local parks in California. The 2013 meetings were held near Monterey.  In 2014, the meetings will be at Yosemite National Park which will be celebrating 150 years in protected status. The three of us spent 3 hours with staff from the various park entities represented at the conference (approximately 30 attendees). There were about 30 attendees in this session.  The block of time was split between the topics of “Use of GIS in Wildland SAR” and “Use of Remote Sensors and UAV’s”.

Tom Patterson gave a very dynamic and comprehensive review of the application of GIS to emergency response, search and rescue and the development of MapSAR. I followed with a presentation on GISCorps and the California pilot project with MapSAR.  Tom Cruz followed with a presentation on the current status in the use of UAV technology for publicly managed lands. This technology is at the very early stages for application and use in the management of public lands. Search and rescue is an area where this technology can be applied relatively soon with the current set of UAV platforms. This presentation nested very well with the other presentations.

My presentation began with GISCorps and the meaning of a volunteer assignment. It then covered the current status of the California pilot project and near term expectations of the GISCorps team and MapSAR team. MapSAR is a free application for use with ArcGIS Desktop. The application includes standardized data models, symbology, and map templates for search and rescue. The presentation included why I think that MapSAR is an effective tool for responding to an incident as a GIS volunteer.

The initial call for this pilot project went out in November, 2012.  Since that call, part of the GISCorps team (9 volunteers) attended MapSAR training in San Bernardino in December. The team has begun working with the MapSAR development team. Outreach has also begun to the SAR community.  On January 15, 2013, Tom Patterson and Lorri Peltz-Lewis met with California County SAR coordinators concerning GIS and search and rescue. Initial steps have been taken to include GISCorps volunteers within the framework of the California mutual aid system. The first steps have been taken to contact the individual SAR coordinators across the state. On March 24, the MapSAR development team and the GISCorps volunteers will be training using MapSAR with incident scenarios (Training Flyer). This training will be hosted by Chris Cruz at West Valley College with web links to trainers and trainees in other parts of the state.

A major component of the GISCorps project is the development of an effective project plan. An initial plan was drafted in January 2013 and is under revision.  From this draft plan, the following goals were emphasized during the presentation:

  • Prepare GIS volunteers for responding as a MapSAR practitioner on a search and rescue incident;
  • Prepare search and rescue volunteers to use MapSAR and geospatial technologies on search and rescue incidents;
  • Expand a cadre of GIS volunteers who are available for responding to search and rescue incidents;
  • Assist in further development of MapSAR as a tool in search and rescue;
  • Agreement or understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the volunteers, the MapSAR development team, and the independent SAR teams;
  • Provide a framework for expansion of the pilot project throughout the state and to other regions

Why were these goals important in a presentation for outreach to the broader community?

The GIS volunteers need to feel comfortable in responding to an incident. This includes how to use the MapSAR tool, what to expect on an incident, how to report, and who is in charge.  The project is just beginning and the GISCorps team and the MapSAR team are in the early stages of understanding where roles and responsibilities overlap and where they are distinct. For this presentation, all of the parks rely extensively on volunteer services. While they were not familiar with GISCorps, they are familiar with the concerns of volunteers and their commitment of time and resources. They are also aware of the potential problems with volunteer efforts where there is a lack of adequate training or preparation.

Evolution of MapSAR – A Photo Journal

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