Suitable workflow for SAR Topo in Canada

thomaschristian's Avatar


07 Jan, 2020 05:38 AM

I'm currently writing a report for my (British Columbia, Canada) SAR group on the various mapping options and I'm trying to learn more about SAR Topo.

According to as of December 2018 offline data was not available in Canada, which presumably means the Offline / Desktop app is effectively redundant. According to the Knowledge Base I should be able to view offline data at but that link simply tells me to use the app, which I do not have, so I cannot verify this myself.

What is the intended workflow for SAR managers in Canada? From what I can tell SAR Topo would be suitable for planning a search before heading out to a staging area, but once we lose our internet connection there is nothing more we can do with the tool. Any changes to our planning, or additional data coming in from searchers, would need to be managed via a different tool. Is this accurate?

Our SAR group covers some very remote areas in northern BC and we regularly spend multiple days on site without an internet connection.

  1. Support Staff 1 Posted by Ben Lantow on 07 Jan, 2020 01:24 PM

    Ben Lantow's Avatar

    Offline data is available in Canada. We have a ton of Canadian SAR teams using the software at this point. On my near future to-do list is to generate coverage maps. If you want you can navigate to, login and use code SCA387 to sign up for a free first responder account, and while it doesn't enable to desktop app, it does allow offline data downloads for the same areas that the desktop map covers.

    I'm working on adding additional coverage maps to better show what layers are available on or offline.

  2. Ben Lantow closed this discussion on 07 Jan, 2020 01:24 PM.

  3. thomaschristian re-opened this discussion on 23 Jan, 2020 05:45 PM

  4. 2 Posted by thomaschristian on 23 Jan, 2020 05:45 PM

    thomaschristian's Avatar

    Thanks, though I found this a little difficult to understand "while it doesn't enable to desktop app, it does allow offline data downloads for the same areas that the desktop map covers". I have been able to test this out in the Android app - is that what you intended, given that I cannot test downloads in SAR Topo offline if I don't have access to it?

    Confusingly (in the Android app) there is little correlation between the options in "Download Layers" and "Map Layers". For example, "Download Layers" includes "Elevation Data" (which is available in my area), however that name does not appear anywhere in the "Map Layers" dialog. When I cycle through the offline options the base map doesn't change, so when I hit the download button I don't actually know what I'm going to get. Am I missing something here? It seems like a significant usability issue if I don't actually know what I'm downloading, and it could potentially put searchers in the field with useless data.

    Our SAR group covers a very remote area and rarely has any internet connectivity on a search, so the availability of offline data is probably the biggest concern in whether or not we adopt SAR Topo. The other Canadian users I have talked to all spent a significant amount of time acquiring, styling, and tiling their own offline data, and it is generally agreed that SAR Topo has very large upfront effort costs. We can do this if necessary, but it concentrates a lot of knowledge and expertise in a small number of people and that presents a maintenance risk in the future. It would address a lot of our concerns if you did publish information about offline data coverage - both the areas that are covered and what kind of data is available in the layers.

  5. Support Staff 3 Posted by Ben Lantow on 23 Jan, 2020 06:45 PM

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    We have a separate desktop software suite that is only available with a Desktop or Team subscription, we also have a very generous refund policy, up to a year after payment with no questions asked. The free first responder accounts include access to downloads of some offline data but not all.

    As for layers, you're absolutely right, we're updating with the next update so that all 3 lists use the same name for the same layer. However we do have a couple extra download options intentionally, such as elevation data, there are use cases where a user may want to download that data or not download it (it's quite large, though it is included with the Map Builder Layer and doesn't get double downloaded). As for updating the download explorer based on layer selection, thats a great idea, no idea why we didn't think of it, I just kicked it to our developer team. Can't promise next release but definitely on the radar now.

    I think we'll have to eventually write some sort of offline data coverage map tool for the web, but the availability is shown (or rather unavailable areas are shown in red) within the download utility.

    Thanks for the well thought out feedback, we're a small company so we are able to incorporate a lot of this quickly.


  6. 4 Posted by John P Pictin on 31 May, 2020 04:45 AM

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    I would love to see what you came up with, Thomas. I support Castlegar SAR in southern BC and I am working to have our system completely offline. Due to our geography of tight narrow valleys, connectivity is highly unpredictable. Our team is part of a group of 8 that are trying to work on implementing similar platforms. We tend to do quite a bit of mutual aid, so it will help us to have common tools. We are also deploying RadioLog in our command unit to enhance our mapping. It will capture GPS coordinates from our radios and and automatically update team locations and tracks on the maps.


  7. 5 Posted by caver456 on 31 May, 2020 01:41 PM

    caver456's Avatar

    Hello, sorry to be poaching in on this thread but just wanted to clarify
    the radio gps marker thing:

    The kenwood fleetsync radio location tracking features are all built in to

    radiolog ( - thanks for plugging it and sorry
    again that the install procedure is still not user friendly) is just a
    'middleman' that is not strictly required:
    it runs on the computer that is directly attached to the base station
    radios by RS232/USB, then associates the incoming fleetsync data with a
    callsign, generates the fleetsync API request that sartopo offline expects,
    and sends it on the local network to be picked up by the sartopo offline
    server which is running on a different machine on the same network. So, no
    internet is required.

    So, I believe (but haven't ever tried) that if the STO server were directly
    connected to the radios by USB, that radiolog wouldn't be necessary.

    Anyway please feel free to check out the repo or to contact me at
    [email blocked] about radiolog though we should probably keep that talk
    off of the caltopo help list.


  8. 6 Posted by thomaschristian on 31 May, 2020 03:26 PM

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    Hi John, it's still a work in progress but below is a video of our Bulkley Valley SAR maps in action. The video is a screen recording showing GIS Kit but the same tiled data sources are compatible with SAR Topo and I have tested it with both, I just don't have a screen recording with SAR Topo.

    Most of the workflow for building these maps is automated and I am working on automating the rest, so that a tech-savvy SAR member could issue a command alongside an area's bounding box coordinates and several hours later receive a dump of tiles.

    The first layer combines images exported from the federal Canvec WMS for zooms 6-15, with BC TRIM imagery stitched together for zooms 16-17. In zooms 12-17 we also have active and retired logging roads from iMap BC (orange), local hiking trails (purple), and local backcountry cabins (not shown in the video). I'm using BC's 25m coarse DEM to give the terrain some texture via hillshading (they charge for the fine-grained DEM). The merged TRIMs at 16-17 show some visual artefacts around the image borders which I think I could eliminate given more time.

    The second layer is the same but with satellite imagery instead of TRIM at zooms 16-17. I made this change after seeing how much our search teams sometimes rely on imagery, even when it's terribly outdated, to coordinate team members in the field. E.g. "how far are you from <feature shown in satellite photo but not shown in Canvec or TRIM>?". The satellite image tiles sit alongside my generated tiles in an offline cache so do not require an internet connection.

    Ultimately the preference is to use satellite imagery at zooms 16-17 but overlay the logging roads, hiking trails, and cabins on these images for added value. I expect to work on this over the next week or two.

  9. 7 Posted by John Pictin on 31 May, 2020 05:00 PM

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    Hi Tom,

    My apologies if I misspoke and have muddied any waters. I was just excited
    to learn of Thomas' project as the mapping aspect is something that I am
    concurrently working on. Although I am a techie and can work on servers,
    networks, radios etc.maps and imagery are more of a struggle for me.


  10. 8 Posted by caver456 on 01 Jun, 2020 01:48 AM

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    not at all John - just trying to clarify that radiolog is not required and
    is a different conversation, though of course I think it is swell!

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