Monday, April 21, 2014

The river wild...

Our MASAR colleague and SARdog trainer Jim Bridge was on the banks of the Kenduskeag when this Unity College boat went by.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Lesson plan on UTMs and new format USGS online topo maps

UTM grid references: For MASAR Training

I found a set of very short tutorials here — their one advantage is that they cover the “shorthand” 4, 6 and 8 figure systems.

This one, from Michigan SAR is more comprehensive, perhaps confusingly so.

I found a lot of references used the out-of-date statement that for many years USGS maps were printed without UTM grids. Most USGS paper maps sold in Maine had the grid. However, ALL of those maps are themselves out-of-date now. The up-to-date maps are now available for free download from USGS at this site here:

I give instructions for using the new USGS site here:

The UTM grid appears as a choice in the overlay menus at the left: Go to Map frame > Projection and grids > Grid lines to “toggle" the UTM grid layer on and off. The availability of the new USGS download site gives us new opportunities for using better paper maps in SAR operations.

In general, if I were asked to give a tutorial on UTMs to a team, or say at the annual training, I’d use this lesson plan (below) and kill two birds with one stone:

Lesson plan:

New Tricks for Old Dogs:
Use of the new online USGS Topo Map Download site and UTM Grid References in SAR:

Using a laptop computer and computer projector in the classroom, a whiteboard or blackboard, and (optional) a Garmin or other GPS turned on and placed somewhere it can “see” satellites (e.g., in a classroom window):
  1. Either a) Navigate to the USGS Topo Map Download site (if Internet is available at training location) and download some new-format USGS topo maps, or b) already have one or more new-format USGS topo maps downloaded to your computer (if Internet is not available). It is preferable for the maps to be local to the specific teams' training area, possibly including the building where the current class is taking place.
  2. Show the class the new map format on the computer projector screen. Show them the updated details and how to toggle the satellite image overlays.  Explain how to print 8.5 by 11 inch portions of the maps using a normal color printer keeping the 1:24,000 scale. Ask them to imagine how they could use these easily-available maps in training and operations.
  3. Identify an obvious location (e.g., the building in which training is being held, or some other obvious local landmark) on the new format USGS topo on the computer screen.
  4. Demonstrate how to “toggle" UTM grid lines on and off using the “layers” in the new format USGS topo map using the computer mouse or keypad. This might be a good time to have one or more students  come up to the front of the class and use the computer to do the same — some SAR team members may not be regular computer users.
  5. Still using the local map on the computer projector screen, pick and zoom into a UTM grid square on the map that has an obvious landmark in it (such as the building), and identify the four-figure “shorthand” grid reference for that square. Explain where the four UTM numbers come from and relate the four-figure “shorthand" reference to the full UTM grid reference that appears in the Garmin or other GPS screen when UTM/UPS is the selected “Location” format (in the GPS unit settings.” Identify that the four figures are the kilometer-scale readings from the Garmin readout. If your Garmin has been working all along as suggested, you can do this in “real time."
  6. Demonstrate how to use “tenths” to create a six-figure “shorthand” UTM grid reference. Explain where the six UTM numbers come from and relate the six-figure “shorthand" reference to the full UTM grid reference that appears in the Garmin or other GPS screen when UTM/UPS is the selected “Location” format (in the GPS unit settings.” Identify that the six figures are the kilometer and hundred-meter scale readings from the Garmin readout.
  7. Additional (if suitable copies of a printed paper map are available): Demonstrate the use of a grid-square reader to obtain the “hundredths” needed for an eight-figure UTM “shorthand” grid reference. Again, relate this to the full UTM grid reference that appears in the Garmin or other GPS screen when UTM/UPS is “on.” identify that the eight figures are the kilometer, hundred-meter, and ten-meter readings from the Garmin readout. Warn students that a grid square reader or at least a compass graticule is needed to get to eight figures.
  8. Practice: Rinse and repeat: Have students find landmarks and give four, six and eight figure references. Call out references for landmarks and make students find them on the map and call out the landmarks.
  9. Have students think about how UTM grid references can be communicated over the radio in SAR operations. Have them imagine how this would work out. In most cases, we would use the full UTM grid reference as given on the GPS screen. But in some circumstances we may want to use four, six and even eight figure shorthand references. Difficulties would occur using shorthand if, for instance, a search party was communicating to a command post and the command post personnel didn’t know how to use shorthand references (as is currently likely). Using the full grid reference would avoid these difficulties, but make it much harder to get the most out of the UTM system’s capabilities for shorthand grid references that can be easily used over the radio.
  10. Examples: “CP this is Unit One, we're at the trailhead in grid square 73 38, awaiting instructions, over.”
  11. Or “CP, Unit One: Have found the victim at UTM reference 7348 3876, over."
  12. Penultimate warning: The Wardens use DeLorme MapTech. Always remember, you can “plug” a full UTM reference into the locator field on MapTech or indeed on any GIS system, but not a four, six, or eight figure reference.
  13. Last warning: Old paper maps that teams have “lying around” may be on a different datum (such as NAD 27) than the new USGSmaps, DeLorme MapTech, or the Garmin GPS (unless the datum has been reset in the GPS).