A small group of us went to the Yosemite Forum presentation today by Paul Doherty on using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to help aid Search and Rescue operations. These once-a-month forums are a chance for the community, and the public at large to learn about some great ongoing Yosemite research.
Today we learned about how researchers are using GIS to try to facilitate Search and Rescue operations. GIS is a system of overlaying complex information on maps that allows you to plot relationships and visualize patterns over a geographical area, and make predictions about the behavior of populations. As a technology, it is already being used by a wide variety of researchers, and policy makers, as well as by fire management teams and rescue personnel. Paul’s preliminary research covers creating systems that will help rescuers anticipate how far a person might have traveled since they were last seen, and plot out a search strategy within that range, (GPS units can then also reveal exactly what ground rescuers have covered.) Finding safe landing areas for helicopters when they are needed for rapid evacuation, and trying to look for patterns in where people are injured and when to help manage resources.
What I liked about this talk, was that Paul has real in-the-field experience, and blends that nitty gritty academic interest with a very practical interest in giving search and rescue teams tools that give them the best possible chance of finding someone and getting them out safely. He pointed out a couple of times during the talk that Yosemite is lucky to have some amazing expertise, people who, after decades of experience, are shockingly good at SAR strategy, but those people won’t always be around, and these new tools can help even some of those with less experience make smart decisions in the field.