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Mapping in the New Age Part III

David Pease, Advanced Rescue Technology Magazine

Computer Mapping in the 21st Century

Computers have become a major player in our lives over the past 10 years, and the ability to keep up with the technology lies only with those who can upgrade their computers several times a year. Unfortunately, most of us in public safety are still hoping to upgrade from two years ago. Email has become a normal way of communication for millions of people, and surfing the web is almost as common as watching the news on television. The DSL lines have given us unbelievable speed for downloads and browsing. It is almost scary to think where we will be in ten years. The good thing is that this technology has brought mapping into a new age.

In the last two articles on mapping we talked about the types of maps available, some basic navigational information and how to apply some of this information. We are now going to look at computer mapping and what several software programs have to offer us in the way of navigating in the 21st century. There is one thing to remember, no matter how technologically advanced we want to make it; south is still south, and 360 degrees still makes a circle. The latitudes and longitudes have not changed, and the UTM system is still a great way to navigate in search and rescue.

Computer mapping software can be used on anything from your base PC, your laptop computer in your truck, to even your palm OS and pocket PC. It makes lying off search grids easy, plotting courses a breeze, and printing customized maps with the stroke of a key. The computer maps are up to date and offer a wide variety of options you can perform using the programs. There are several mapping programs on the market that would fit most anyone’s needs. This can be for search and rescue operations, or to locating where the call is and the best way to get there. The programs work with GPS units to even better enhance there capabilities. There are two programs we are going to look at in this article. However, there are other available programs on the market, but these two seem to have the most to offer for search and rescue.

We will be looking at programs from DeLorme and Maptech. Both offer very good programs suitable for search and rescue. They offer topographical programs that feature the latest in USGS mapping. First, we will take a look at Maptech’s Terrain Navigator and Terrain Navigator Pro. Both programs feature the topo maps on a CD. The maps come in two scales, 1:24/25,000 (7.5 minute) and 1:100,000. The program allows you to scroll from map to map with their seamless feature or look at separate maps as if viewing a standard printed map. The program has a digital elevation view that will give you cross section terrain profiles. There are layering features for drawing on the map and then printing later. You can perform a straight line, as we remember, “the shortest distance between two points is a line”, and plot our two points to find what the exact distance is between them. It will also give you the cumulative distances when plotting a series of lines. The maps will give you a grid system set up for latitude and longitude or the UTM system. The cursor will give you the location point as you move it around the map.

The drawing features will allow you to use icons for identifying such things as base camp, your staging area, incident command, and points along the way you need to identify such as clues or prints. You can draw off search areas for teams to use in the field and track their progress. You can specify the data needed such as NAD27, WGS84, or have it default to the local data. The program will let you import and export to your GPS units and then print out the results. As with most mapping programs, you can find street addresses and locations by entering them in the proper queries. You can do a 3-D upgrade and get enhanced digital elevation data. This will give you a 3-D view of your area at any angle chosen.

You can upgrade to Terrain Navigator Pro and get additional features such as; placing your cursor over a location will give you the street address. You can copy the CD’s to your hard drive and no longer have to change out CD’s when you want to change map areas. You can automatically label your maps with street addresses, coordinates, and elevations. You can get access to the website and download aerial photos of your area in a 1 meter resolution. One year of download is included in the price of the software. For further information on the Maptech’s programs you can visit their website at

The next programs we are going to look at are put out by DeLorme. They offer 3-D Topo Quads, Topo USA, USA Street Network, XMap 4.0 and 4.5 upgrade, XMap/GIS and SAT 10. All these programs have excellent features for search and rescue. The 3-D Topo Quads can be purchased for your entire state either on CD ROMS or on a DVD. These maps will take you from the streets down to the USGS topo maps of the area you are looking at and more. All the programs are run by the same engine so they can interact with each other. This makes them very powerful programs. We’ll touch on a few of the features they have to offer with each program.

We will first look at the 3-D Topo Quads 2.0 on DVD. This program has over 15 viewing levels that will take you down to 1/24,000. It features the USGS quadrangles, has grids for latitude and longitude and now has the UTM grid system that was not in earlier versions. The 3-D model gives the viewer a 360 degree rotation of the area being looked at. The maps will take you from the highway to contoured topo’s. Most all states can be acquired in a single DVD or a collection of CD ROMS. Next let’s look at Topo USA 4.0. This program features start to finish routing and directions. You can print up to 11” X 17” and to poster size if you like. You can use 3-D topo Quads along with Topo USA by inserting your state DVD and then running the program. This will now allow you to magnify down to 1:24,000 in scale. When you enter a location it will give you the UTM along with the location. All of the United States is not to 1:24,000 scale in Topo USA unless you use 3-D Topo Quads. 3

The most powerful of these programs is the XMap 4.0 upgradeable to 4.5 and XMap/GIS. These programs interface with the other DeLorme programs to give you a wide capability of features and uses. These programs also interface with other programs and files on your computer to allow for good documentation and bringing needed information to your maps. These programs feature a split screen so you can view and use two maps simultaneously. You can look at a map with streets on one side while viewing a topo map of the same area on the other. XMap has the MGRS, military grid reference system if needed along with the standard latitude and longitude and UTM. You can export a map to a handheld pocket PC or laptop in the field. All the maps feature a drawing capability to put symbols and lines on your maps. The SAT 10 is a 10 meter satellite imagery of the area you need. This can be run with XMap and give you a 10 meter satellite view along with the standard topo view side by side. You can overlay these images on top of one another and compare areas of interest. You can also get from DeLorme the ADP package which is the aerial photo to 1 meter resolution for an even better comparison. The XMap 4.5 upgrade gives you a wide selection of colors for your lines and polygons, instead of the standard four colors. They have added new symbols and line styles, as well as other updates. I do not have the space or the time to list and even discuss all the features of these programs. You can visit their website at and get more information.

Computer mapping is the wave of the future for mapping applications in search and rescue. We are able to do so much with these programs from pinpointing search areas to interfacing our searches with our GPS units and then downloading the information back to our maps. These maps can be tagged with symbols and locations that may be crucial to our efforts, along with clues that are found and where. We can print these maps for use in the field and for training purposes later. These programs are also good for keeping the roads and highways updated in your response area. The XMap programs will allow you to add streets to the maps, keeping your members up to date on the latest additions to your area. These programs are also good for use in wildland firefighting and locating your calls. Problem areas can be plotted and marked on your response maps for future evacuations or areas where fires may present a special problem. Knowing how to get to a specific location for a call is also helpful and can be intergraded into your response protocols.

I hope you have at least a better understanding of how mapping works and where it is going, from the good “ole” USGS 1/24,000 topo maps all the way to the modern interface of topo maps and satellite imaging on computer. I think we can see that mapping in search and rescue has definitely come a long way and will continue to get better as time goes on. We should work toward utilizing these improvements to the benefit of the people we serve. Until next time, stay safe and train to your best, and may all your searches be successful.

Mapping in the New Age Part I

Mapping in the New Age Part II