Wednesday, July 12, 2017

SAR Grab Bag

Once again, although the blog has not been updated, the wheels of progress are still turning at CalTopo HQ.  Here's a quick run down on some new features that, while available to everyone, will mostly appeal to SAR users.

Custom Icons
CalTopo has long supported custom icons by allowing you to enter a URL on the icon chooser, but the built-in limitations made this clumsy - you had to host the image elsewhere, and re-enter the URL for each new icon.  Now, you can upload the files directly to CalTopo and tie them to your account (limited to pro-level users only):

Once uploaded and configured, your icons will appear as a new row in the icon chooser:

Variable Opacity
Lines and polygons now feature an opacity setting, so that you can create partially-transparent features that allow the underlying basemap to show through.  On the SAR side, opacity lives on operational periods and cascades down to child assignments and tracks, making it easy to show existing search efforts without completely obscuring the map.

There's a new "buffer" object type that lets you trace along a linear feature and create a polygon encompassing all points within a specified distance, making it easy to draw an assignment that actually covers everything within 200' of a trail or drainage.

After selecting New -> Buffer, you'll see a dialog asking you to select the buffer's size:

From there you'll see the normal line drawing dialog and UI.  When you finish drawing, the line gets converted to a polygon.  At the moment, this is a one-way operation: as with sectors, once a buffer is created it's just another polygon.  There's no way to alter the line that the buffer was created from.

Snap To Existing Lines and Polygons
Playing well with buffers, the auto-draw tool has been extended to let you snap to existing map objects like lines and polygons.  For maps built on non-overlapping gridded areas, like a search planning map, this makes for a much cleaner end product than trying to manually trace out two polygon boundaries to match each other.

Assignment Letters
SAR planning is still a wild west of differing approaches, but it's fairly common for teams to want to identify segments via letters, and teams assigned to those segments via numbers.  There are a number of ways SARTopo could handle this, including having separate segment and assignment objects, but I decided to go with the simple and universal approach of giving assignments two properties: a number and a letter.  You can use both, or either, and the map labels should reflect this intelligently.  The 104 form has also been updated with a space for the letter.

Assignment Summary
A feature I'm particularly excited about is the assignment summary form, accessible via the assignment bulk ops menu.

For background, common practice on searches is to prepare a separate assignment form for each team, which is also used to capture team members' names.  This is generally done using multipart carbonless copy paper; the team gets the top (most legible) copy, and the CP keeps the rest.  Capturing the names of each person on an assignment is important for safety and accountability reasons, but it's hard to print onto loose-leaf carbonless paper.  Doable, but easy to mess up - so the forms are often filled out by hand, even if some of the information is already in SARTopo.

From my involvement with large multi-day incidents, getting large stacks of assignment forms properly filled out with the right details is one of the major tasks keeping people up late and depriving them of adequate sleep.  And since teams in the field only have their own form, it limits their situational awareness.

It's also common practice to include an assignment-specific map with with each form, a feature SARTopo supports.  However, for both logistical and situational awareness reasons, I've been pushing people away from that feature and towards printing a tiled multi-page incident map to be included in the IAP - which is the way wildland fire incidents have done it for some time.

The assignment summary form extends this approach to SAR 104 forms - an approach that's also in line with the way the rest of the ICS world works, albeit in a more paper-friendly fashion.  Pertinent information for all the assignments is condensed into a page or two, suitable for inclusion in an IAP without burning through too much paper.  Carbonless forms would still be used for tracking team members' names.

As with the "print a coordinate list" feature, fields to be displayed are user-selectable.  You can print full details and a mini-map per assignment, or condense each one down to a single row.

End result:

Along with the IAP summary, there's a separate deployment summary that makes use of newly-added team size and priority fields to create a nice single-page reference for operations to use while forming and deploying teams: