The ability to share and track team member locations can provide incredibly valuable information both during and after a major incident or event.
CalTopo and SARTopo offer a number of location sharing and tracking functions and the particular function(s) you choose to use will depend on several factors, including whether you have a team or individual account, why you want the location information, whether or not team members have a data connection and the trackable devices available.
The purpose of this article is to describe the different functions for tracking and sharing location on CalTopo and SARTopo in order to help you choose the best tools for your particular mission.
There are essentially two types of location sharing and tracking functions in CalTopo and SARTopo. The first type allows you to track location data on a saved map and includes recording tracks with the mobile app and adding locator groups.
The second type, which requires a team account, allows you to turn on a Team Shared Locations overlay, which displays the position of trackable devices that are sharing their location with the team. As you will see below, different location functions serve different purposes.
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It is important to note that you can use more than one location function at a time.
In the example below, a team member is recording their mobile tracks (the orange line with the blue dot) and sharing location data with the team (the green dot) at the same time via the CalTopo mobile app.
You can record a track to a particular map, or set up a locator for that map. These actions are not limited to team accounts, but can be useful for teams.
If you wish to record actual tracks on a particular map, then this is the option for you. Besides importing tracks from a dedicated GPS, currently this is the only location function that will allow you to create a permanent record of where a team member has been. Any mobile tracks that are being saved to the map will upload in near real time with a data connection or as soon as a data connection is reestablished. Each set of mobile tracks will appear as a map object in the map viewer and the left side bar. This function does allow for real time tracking when the team members in the field have a reliable data connection.
How to use: To record your tracks using the mobile app, open the team map that you wish to save your tracks to in the map viewer. Click on the 4 dot location menu in the lower right hand corner and select Record Track.
The Record Track dialog will appear. By default, the name of the track will be today’s date. Change the track name if desired or according to your team’s protocols and make sure to save the track to Account + This Map. This ensures that your track will appear on and be saved to the map you have open.
Select Record Track and the track will begin recording. As long as you have a data connection, anyone viewing the map will be able to see your track. If you don’t have a data connection, the track will save locally to your phone and then automatically sync once a data connection is reestablished.
To finish a track, click on the Recording Track dialog at the bottom of the screen and then select Finish and Save.
The track will be saved to both your individual account under Your Tracks and to the map.
If you have an individual account rather than a team account and wish to view the position of trackable devices such as Garmin inReaches or APRS, then this is the option for you.
Adding a locator group to a saved map will allow you to display position updates from these types of devices. This can be helpful in areas without cell service and the position will be updated at either regular intervals as specified by your device’s plan/settings or by manually pushing updates.
Typically the most recently reported position will be displayed along with a small part of the track tail so that direction, speed and recent locations can be inferred. However, this location function does not reliably save the entirety of the track and is not meant to serve as a record of permanent tracks. Recording tracks with the mobile app or importing in tracks from a dedicated GPS device is recommended for this purpose.
How to use: This method does involve some initial set up. The Garmin inReach is one of the most common devices added as a locator. Check out Integration with Garmin inReach Devices for step-by-step instructions on how to integrate SARtopo and Garmin inReaches.
Please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with specific questions about adding other types of devices as locators.
If you have a team account and want to easily track the positions of multiple trackable devices at the same time, then this is the option for you.
Available only to team accounts, this overlay displays the position of any device (including the mobile app, inReaches, APRS, etc) sharing its location with the team or Event. Because this overlay does not belong to a map, position data is displayed but not recorded on the map you are currently working on. This allows you to seamlessly switch between maps while still viewing location data and eliminates clutter during situations where recorded tracks are not needed, such as when team members are initially responding to a first response incident from home, going door to door for evacuations or walking up and down fire lines.
The image below shows the position of a device being shared with the team. Notice that, unlike adding a locator, the device does not appear in the Map Objects menu on the left. It is part of the Shared Locations overlay.
In addition, any device that is currently sharing its location with the team account and part of the Shared Locations overlay will automatically show up when the overlay is turned on, eliminating the need to add devices each time you start working in a new map.
How to use: The Shared Locations overlay can be found at the bottom of the layers menu under Realtime Data. By default, the shared locations for any team, subteam or Event that you are part of will be displayed. You can use the dropdown menu to show only the shared locations for a particular team, subteam or Event. You must turn on the overlay in order to view the position of devices that are sharing their location with the team account.
Each device sharing its location with the team will be displayed as a dot on the map. Clicking on the device dot on the map displays a dialog with the device’s name, coordinates and last update time. There are also options for showing a particular dot's track and copying it's current location to the map as a marker.
Devices can be added to the Shared Locations overlay by turning on the Share Location function in the mobile app and by adding devices to a Trackable Device Group on the Team Admin page.
You can easily share your location with the team from the mobile app as long as you have a data connection and an update or higher team permission level. This is different from recording mobile tracks because your position is displayed but not saved to a map.
How to use: To share your location with the team from the mobile app, click on the 4 dot location menu in the lower right hand corner and select Share Location.
In the Start Location Sharing dialog that appears, choose a name and color for your device. Select Share Location with (Your Team Name) and then press Start Sharing. This will start sharing your location in the Team Shared Locations overlay.
Please note: to view your position and the position of anyone else sharing their location on your team, you will also need a data connection and to turn on the Shared Locations overlay from the layers menu in the mobile app.
This feature allows you to create groups of trackable devices ahead of time that can then be viewed using the Shared Locations overlay. This is the method you will use to add any device that isn’t running the mobile app to the Shared Locations overlay. Multiple devices can be added to one group, including Garmin inReaches, APRS, and custom systems.
When any device in a group is turned on and transmitting its location, the most recent position data for each device will be displayed on the map as part of the overlay but not recorded.
How to use: Only team members with Admin access can create or edit trackable device groups. To create a new group, navigate to the Team Admin page. Choose the tab for Trackable Device Groups, and select Create a New Group.
In the New Trackable Device Group dialog that appears, assign a display name and a device color. Unlike locator groups, this display name (along with a device ID) will appear every time a device that belongs to the group is detected (we'll cover how to edit device names in a moment). Press Save to create the group.
The new trackable device group will now appear under the Trackable Devices tab. A unique semi-secure Update/APRS Key will be generated for your URL. You will use this key to add most (if not all) devices to the trackable device group.
Clicking on the Details button that appears under the trackable device group name will bring up instructions on how to add different devices using the unique Update/APRS key. The trackable device group will not serve any purpose until you take the appropriate steps and add devices to it. Follow the instructions in the box to connect devices to this group.
For instructions on setting up the Garmin side of the inReach connection, see below.
Once a device is succesfully connected to a trackable device group, it will not show up until the first time it reports its location after being added. As soon as a device reports its location, it will appear in the Trackable Devices tab under Devices for the trackable device group and it will appear as part of the Shared Locations overlay in the map viewer.
By default, trackable devices will appear with the trackable device group display name plus a device ID. To rename a device, return to the Trackable Device tab and click Edit next to the device's name. From here you can change the device's name as well as the color. Click Save to confirm the changes.
The device will be renamed and/or display a new color in both the Trackable Devices tab and in the map viewer. From now on the device will appear with that name and color until you choose to change it or remove the device from the group.
To view trackable devices in the map viewer, remember to turn on the Shared Locations overlay. Any device that is on and transmitting (including the mobile app) will appear on the map.
To remove a trackable device group and all associated devices, an Update/APRS key or an individual device, click the Remove button next to what you wish to remove and then confirm.
If you need another key for any reason, you can click the Generate New Key button and follow the instructions that appear in the Create New Key dialog.
CalTopo offers integration with all inReach devices including the popular inReach mini and other devices.
CalTopo uses inReach Personal Connect (IPC) to receive this information from Garmin. Use of IPC requires a professional account for your device. Garmin allows one or more devices on a single Professional plan.
More information about Garmin Professional plans can be found here. If you are already active on a Personal plan you can switch your account to a Professional plan by following Garmin's instructions for switching an inReach subscription to a Professional Account.
The next setup steps are done in Garmin's interface and require an active device with an active professional plan (see above). To begin navigate to Garmin's inReach portal and login.
You'll be brought to the main page of Garmin account system. You'll select Settings (circled with an orange 1 on the below image) and then you'll navigate to Portal Connect (circled with an orange 2 on the below image).
CalTopo uses the OUTBOUND Portal Connect: The address varies based upon if you use the CalTopo or SARTopo server (typically first responders are on SARTopo server, others CalTopo server).
Turn on the outbound connection (click on the gray off switch and it will turn green and display the word on as shown above). In the URL field place the copied URL from the details dialog box.
You can send a test message at this point to your map and it should display a dummy locator and a marker at that point. Ensure to save your settings on the Garmin site at the bottom of the page.
Remember to SAVE this setting.
At this point you've successfully linked your Locator to this map and the map will now display updates as your device posts these updates. Garmin devices may require additional settings to push updates, these can be set to occur regularly, or only on demand, based on your plan and preferences.