2013 Review

It’s always useful to take some time and take stock of yourself. Without some analysis, there’s no way to identify what you did right, what needs improvement, and where you should go next. This is true of individuals and of organizations. What better time than an arbitrary year boundary?

First I would like to thank the tens of thousands of you who visited the blog this year. It humbles me that people read what I write, and take the time to respond, both in the comments and via email, to express their opinions as well. Writing here lets me think through ideas, and I learn an enormous amount from SAR people from other areas. Many of the concepts I express on this blog probably arise out of  conversations with you, I hope you realize how valuable this is. Nobody acts alone, and the things I write about are only interesting because hundreds of people have worked on these things before me.

This year I spent a lot of time thinking and talking about Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), but very little time writing about them. I actually wrote two full articles for the blog, but never published them because I realized quite quickly that I needed to learn some more before I could write something useful. It turns out that I have almost reversed my original opinions on how useful UAVs might be for SAR. Expect some posts on them here next year. I am hoping we make some progress on getting them approved for standard SAR operations in BC very soon.

I also spent a lot of time writing about the SAR funding model this year. I backed some of my opinions with numbers, and watched with interest some of the debate on how to reform the system. I’ve attended several conferences and talked with SAR people from all over Canada and the world and I can truly say that BC has a world class Search and Rescue system, but it has a lot of room for improvement. I’ll continue posting on SAR funding, but next year I’m going to start talking about some other ways we can improve SAR in BC, with some very specific recommendations.

One thing that has never worked on this blog is the forum; a completely failed experiment. Originally intended to provide a place for SAR people in BC to exchange ideas, very few people joined it. It has been entirely superseded by the BC Search and Rescue Association’s members only site. I encourage all SAR people in BC to create an account there if you’re interested in exchanging ideas with other experts in BC. I will be deleting the forum in the near future.

As an aside, I’m also an administrator on that site and I can say I’m quite disappointed that some SAR teams in BC don’t appear to be participating! Any SAR volunteer in BC is free to create their own account; you don’t need permission from anyone, and you can access information from your association directors  and representatives directly.

SARVOST

SARVOST

I did a lot of work on the Social Media front, writing policies for my own SAR team, and presenting at SARScene. I founded the #SMSAR hashtag in the hopes that it would be adopted by the SAR community to tag posts specific to the use of Social Media for SAR operations, and there has been some uptake on that. I’ve also started a small group interested in providing technological and social media support to SAR teams; the idea is to provide best practises and other resources, tools and guidance to SAR teams and first responders from SM experts who also have knowledge of search and rescue and emergency management. This idea is borrowed from the #SMEM (Social Media in emergency Management) community, and I hope it will be as useful a concept for SAR as it has been in emergency management. Look for more on this in 2014.

I am still working on Crowdsourced SAR. Based on meetings with several SAR experts at SARScene who brought forward ideas very similar to those used on the Tyler Wright search in 2010, many have expressed a need for an organized framework to tap into the the public for image analysis. Rather than the ad hoc, error prone and disorganized approach initially used in 2010, and recently applied to the search for Tom Billings, a framework to guide viewers to the areas most useful to search, and to assist SAR experts in reviewing tips, would go a long way toward making this system more effective. I’m in talks with academic partners, and am in the process of researching a grant for this project.

There were a lot of other posts, and many of them contain the seeds of ideas that need to be developed, and others that need never be mentioned again. The nice thing that technology is always changing, some something new always comes along. Sometimes technology presents us with bad ideas, or something that seems like a good idea at first but ends up being terrible in practise. I’m going to continue looking at changes to technology in SAR and write about issues I see.

Location-100I am still looking for someone to come in and assist me to bring the YourLo.ca/tion service to a new level of functionality. The prototype is still chugging along, and the beta testing on the new site stalled over the late summer and the fall. I just did not have the bandwidth to keep at it. I applied for a grant, but was denied funding, so I’m going to have to fall back on volunteer coders. If you’re interested, please don’t hesitate to contact me. To date thousands of people have tested the software, and from the logs it looks like several teams are using it. I would enjoy hearing feedback on how it is working, and how it could be improved. Ultimately, this service is only useful in some corner cases where the subject has good cell coverage. Until NG911 (next generation 911) comes online, this is the only way to automate the retrieval of a GPS coordinate from a cell phone.

TrueNorth 100 white fillAnd finally, and most exciting to me, my software TrueNorth Geospatial enjoyed it’s first few public releases; an early Alpha release, and a closed Beta. I’ve been working almost full time on TrueNorth for the past three years, about the same time I’ve been writing for this blog. Designed originally for backcountry professionals, my hope is that TrueNorth takes a place in the tool kit for anyone who spends time in the outdoors and needs professional quality mapping (which includes SAR members). Currently TrueNorth supports an enormous number of file formats for import and export, online mapping services, can upload and download data to many devices such as Garmin GPS units, and I am adding features for live field position tracking of ICOM, Kenwood, Motorola, and APR radio protocols. It produces professional quality printed navigable maps, and has been tested in a SAR environment for the past year.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this I managed to fit in my vocation, avocation, and recreation, and spend time with my family.

This is the year that many people hailed the death of the blog. I honestly don’t care what’s popular or trendy. Some topics not only require more than 140 characters, as a passionate believer in constant improvement and learning, I feel a duty to write about them in a format that allows a range of expression, and lives beyond the walls of a social media empire. So, I’ll keep blogging.

Hope your new year is safe and happy.

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