Mapping / Planning

The implementation of mapping and planning can vary, but the function and operation remain the same. One of the main purposes of having an organized search is to be able to identify what areas have been checked, when, and by whom. Mapping out the search areas or grids and preparing them for teams is a key part of the DSP system.

This area is also one of the most critical to keep secure and secluded from the public and media. There are several reasons behind this but be sure to keep it in mind when setting up a search operation. The choice of who to staff this area is also a very important decision; choose a reliable staff who is known, familiar with this system, and will be available as much as possible. We will have Destiny Search Project staff on call as a Virtual Support Team that will assist with preparing the maps remotely however, it will still be beneficial to have a few persons on site that know the area and can help with the mapping process.



A. Creating a Map (Search Assignment)

Now that you have volunteers ready to go out searching, they need to know where they are going. This is done by creating a Search Assignment, or what we simply call a Map. To create search maps, we now use SARTopo Maps. A full discussion of the capabilities and use of the application is beyond the scope of this manual, but we will cover a few basics. Also, if you have another method of creating maps, feel free to use that. Just make sure that you can create pdf or screenshots to be used in the DSP system.

Rather than sharing multiple screen shots, we suggest you open the link to a Sample Map in a separate browser window so you can see how we use My Maps and DSP system demo.

Looking at the Sample Map, you will see that there are a few ‘layers’ in the column on the left side of the map. The first of which is the Key Points layer. In this layer, you create map points that identify the Search Center (SC) or Command Post (CP), which is the location of the search operation, the Place Last Seen (PLS), which is the location where the missing person was last seen or known to have been, and the Law Enforcement Command Post (LE), if known. In this sample, there is also an Exclusion Zone (EZ), or an area that the police have asked us not to search. There may be a need for additional key points to meet your search needs. Some examples would be Horse or Boat Departure Area, Hospital, Airport, or Landing Field (if supporting air operations) or others. Next, there is an “Overall” layer which is used to track the total search area.

Next is Search Areas layer. This layer lists the individual grids that were set up at map creation. In a new map, you would first define and save an area, then you would use the edit layer function to configure the layer to the folder, and to change the color.

You should use a consistent naming scheme for map areas. We recommend that you start with 001 and continue upward including adding any special maps in sequence. We do not need to worry about the day as some maps may be made a day or more in advance for a large search. It is possible to use a tool in SARTopo to set maps to operational period but this will likely only be done in very large seaches.  In the description area, be as clear as possible. It is good to try to use clear boundaries such as roads, rivers, creeks, other barriers. You may need to switch between the Terrain, Satellite, and other views to best identify a good area. In the description, it usually is written from North, East, South, to West. Depending on whether it is Urban, Rural, Forest, Mixed or Others you will have to determine for your search what will make the most sense.

 In the description area, be as clear as possible. It is good to try to use clear boundaries such as roads, rivers, creeks, other barriers. You may need to switch between the Terrain, Satellite, and other views to best identify a good area. In the description, it usually is written from North, East, South, to West. Depending on whether it is Urban, Rural, Forest, Mixed or Others you will have to determine for your search what will make the most sense.

Map Demo Areas

To better explain some of the thinking process in selecting a map area we will discuss the ten demo entries listed in the DSP Demo and on the CalTopop Maps Demo. In this section, we are only covering the parts related to the mapping itself and not the anything past the ‘Size’ field.

  1. 01-01: This is a Large Field type area and just less than a mile in total size (The map shows you this info if you select an area) Generally, your goal is to be able to search an area in 1-2 hours.
  2. 01-02: This map covers a Large Mixed area of housing and fields. (Never search private property without permission of the owners.) Note that the status of this section is set to ‘Cleared’. This indicates the map was not completed by the team assigned, but has been reassigned to another team or “cleared” for another reason. Comments can be used to help explain this and other statuses. In this case, the comment is indicated by the small message bubble ‘2’ in the entry. You can read comments and the entire history of any entry by expanding them.
  3. 01-03: This is a Medium Mixed area with residential and fields. Most likely, this focus of this area will be door-to-door awareness, rather than searching. Note that in this case a satellite image was used. You may want to try different base maps for different areas as some have better visual indications for the teams than others.
  4. 01-04: While this map is not that big, it is best suited to a medium-sized team due to the fact some of the area would be a medium sized field. Areas that are wooded or contain other concealment need a better look and require more searchers assigned to them.
  5. 01-05: Sometimes you will get a very large group that comes in together and wants to stay together as one team. In this example, a college football team would make a great choice to cover the entire large neighborhood as one single group. Whenever a large group requests to search together the mapping team should be made aware so they can identify an area that best suited for the size and type of group. These special entries can also include things like ATV, Horse, or Boat teams. Remember that if each team member is not individually registered, you need some type of hard copy from the responsible team leader that includes all of the required information for each member.
  6. 01-06: This is an example of a large area that only needs a small team. The Large Commercial area will likely only need to have the businesses listed to be given fliers to post. Remember the “Size” is not of the area but the number of Team members suggested.
  7. 01-07: This is a Large Housing area that could be done by any size team.
  8. 01-08: This is shown as a Medium Housing area but also could have less or more members added to the team available. 
  9. 01-09: This is a Large area and includes some wooded and creekside spots. It’s best to plan on a larger team when there are more complex areas to be searched.
  10. 01-10: This map area is not designated as a Special team since it will require a boat for the water. Use special anytime there are needs that would be used other than just volunteers. 

So from going over these 10 demo areas you should have learned a few things. Keep in mind the type of area being searched, how large it is, is it a special search? How many searchers will be needed? Use a variety of base maps to better show the detail that may be important to the team assigned.

B. Entering a New Map (walk through)

Now that you understand the basic logic and reasoning for how a map area is created let’s take that and create a new map entry, and assign it as a team from scratch. Keep in mind though that in the process of creating this walk-through the entry was created so it will already show up in the Demo version.

  1. You will enter maps using the “Map Entry” view in the “Assignments” table. It is preferred to create the map in SARTopo first and then add it to a new assignment.
  2. Deciding where is part science, art, and guessing what will work best with the resources current;y available. Each search is different based on the types of areas and how many volunteers may be available to search at a given time.
  3. Open SARTopo Maps in a tab or window to create the map. In the left column, you will see a “bulk ops” under the search entries. Click on that which will open a dialog box.
  4. First, you will want to change the  “minimum scale” to 1:120.  This will allow the pdf printout to be formatted best for our uses. You also will need to ensure that no “Google” layers are being used.
  5. You now can select one or more of the sections. You then can select the “print individual maps” option. This will open a new tab that will load a pdf of the selected maps including scale, markers, and details. This could take a few minutes to load.
  6. If it is a single map you can save it as pdf. If you selected multiples you will need to print and save each page as an individual pdf
  7. Next switch back over to the Airtable and “Map Entry” view. Double-click in the”Team Type” field of the blank entry and select ‘Search’ from the options. The others are to identify Staff, or Special teams not searching directly.
  8. Now to add the map pdf there are two options; first is to click in the Map Image field, then the plus and follow the prompts to add the image. The better way is to simply drag and drop the image from the correct file folder right to the Map Image field. Once added input the Map # used in SARTopo in the next field “Maps ID #”
  9. Now select the team size from the drop-down listing. To determine the team you can look at how large of an area and what type of search will be done. to identify the type of search select one of the “Search Types” which include, Canvas (going door to door in neighborhoods), Field/Trail which are public areas suck as parks or bike routes. remember e leave rugged terrain for SAR. 
  10. Now add the details about the location including the area boundaries and any other details. 
  11. The final field is the “Priority” which are Norma, High, Low, and Special. In almost all cases it will be normal. You ould use High anytime Law Enforcement requests a specific area. Low and Special are for unique circumstances as needed.
  12. You will notice that once you first started the map entry a “Team ID” was automatically created. Teams and Maps are a single unique pairing. Any time a new map or team is needed you create entire new entry. this includes for completely incomplete maps. 


That should cover the steps for creating, and adding a new map entry. Once you get access to the DSP system it would be good to practice creating and entering these while thinking of the reasoning behind the maps that you select.

C. Incomplete Maps / Resending

Earlier it was mentioned about the handling of incomplete maps. First, you should know the Map is not incomplete, you did a great job setting it up. However, for whatever reason, the team was unable to search all of the areas. So now let’s look at how incomplete maps get into the system, how to easily find them, and how to take care of them.

  1. As part of the debriefing process given to every team upon their return, they are asked if they were able to search the entire area. If they answer “no” then details about why would be entered in the Debrief notes field, the map will be marked incomplete, and a comment will be added to the entry. These will be covered more in the Debriefings section
  2. There are few ways for the Map team to come across Incomplete Maps. There is an “Incomplete” status in the Maps Status view. that groups maps that have returened by the status from debriefing. Yoiu will be able to find any incomplete maps listed here. You could also get a notification from the debrifing staff by using the comments.
  3. If you have a map marked as  Incomplete. The first step is to evaluate all of the entries that are listed as Incomplete. This can help to ‘Clear’ some very quickly if no real actions can be or need to be taken
    1. There are many ways to access the Debrief notes this is just one of them. You should take the time in finding your own workflow and shortcuts that work for you.
    2. Expand the record. Scroll down and read the Debrief Notes
    3. Once the there is no further action or a new Map and Team has been created the Status can be changed to Cleared to remove it from the Incomplete listing and show that it was reviewed.
    4. You may also want to leave a comment on the Team’s entry screen about the reasoning for the Cleared status
  4. The incomplete map entry needs some action, it was noted that one street was not able to be done. In order to clear that area, we will need to create a new Map and Team. This same process may be also used at times to randomly recheck some areas at times.
    1. Create a new Map entry, copy the details over from the Incomplete Map but add a note that it a recheck of Map ID# and Team # depending what the entry is.
    2. Add a new Map image and select a team size (this may be smaller if it was large team before and only a small portion is left) and complete the other details. 
    3. At this point depending how your search center operates you may assign volunteers to the new map and  team.
    4. Now go to the Incomplete Maps Team entry and change to ‘Cleared’ (on the demo there will be some Incomplete Maps that actually have been cleared but status left to leave examples)

That should cover all of the basics needed to get maps created that can be assigned to teams and sent out for searching.