Use of geospatial data and technology for wilderness search and rescue by nonprofit organizations

Loren Pfau, J.I. Blanford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Geospatial data and tools are key in locating lost or missing persons in as short a time as possible. In this study, we used a geographic information system (GIS) to analyze four years of search and rescue (SAR) mission data from Colorado to determine the appropriate use of GIS for volunteer-based SAR organizations with limited resources and GIS expertise. GIS can provide more sophisticated analyses of geospatial data than simple mapping technologies, but our findings indicated that complex spatial analysis might not be required on all missions, because the majority of missions were completed within six to ten hours. Instead, new technologies such as tablets with mapping software and online GIS systems that provide quick and easy access to up-to-date geospatial data such as imagery offer capabilities that could improve mission planning. Here we provide a framework in which SAR missions can apply geospatial technologies to aid with missions, identify critical “hotspots,” and enhance postanalysis and training. The work here is highly applicable for nonprofit SAR groups when deciding on what GIS technologies to consider for their areas.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)434-442
Number of pages9
JournalProfessional Geographer
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 5 Apr 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Emergency response and crisis management
  • Geolocation data
  • GIS and spatial analysis
  • Lost person behavior
  • Time-sensitive mission
  • Geo-health


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