Course: CalTopo (SARTopo) for Incident Response

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CalTopo is used by first responders worldwide to manage incidents of all sizes, whether that be backcountry search and resuce hurricane response and recovery, or many other uses.

Though you may know the program by the name SARTopo, that name is being phased out. Currently you can use either or to access the same maps and data. Map mode will determine whether SAR-type objects, such as assignments, are available in the +ADD object menu. For more information about map mode, go to this lesson.

Class Purpose and Certificate Opportunity

The purpose of this course is to walk through how to effectively integrate CalTopo into all stages of your incident response from start to finish. While this course will focus on multi operational period searches as an example, the same CalTopo tools and skills covered can be easily applied to other types of incidents as well.

We have partnered with NASAR to provide a free certificate of completion for this course. To obtain your certificate you will read the course content on this site, and create a map for a fictional search along the way. You will also answer quiz questions and submit your final map to us through NASAR's online class platform. You must complete all the tasks in each exercise in this course in order to gain your certificate.

Course Goals

  • Initial Response: evaluate terrain and create a hasty map.
  • Risk Management: research current and forecasted conditions, plan ingress and egress routes, and evaluate potential landing zones
  • Segmenting and Assignments: set up a map that has effective search zones for the second operational period and beyond.
  • Deployment and Incident Action Plan: send a team into the field using the mobile app and map packets and forms.
  • Tracks and Data Management: clean up search tracks and handle the incoming data.
  • Scale Up: be prepared to handle larger incidents incorporating multiple agencies.

The lessons here assume that you have a CalTopo team account, rather than an individual subscription. Anyone using an individual account will need to reference the user guide to make adjustments for how to share maps effectively, among other things. However, you may also email us as and request a trial code for an temporary Pro account before taking the course.

Course Design

This is a self-paced course that is designed to be completed sequentially. Each chapter is focused on how you can incorporate and leverage CalTopo tools and features during a specific part of the incident response process.

This course assumes that learners have a baseline understanding of how to use CalTopo; however if you are new to CalTopo or unsure how to perform a specific action, links to relevant sections of the All Users guide are provided for your reference throughout the course.


This course utilizes three sample scenarios that are introduced here. The scenarios are set in three different environments (suburban, rural and mountainous) and interwoven throughout each chapter to demonstrate how to use the tools and features described to respond to an incident within that environment. You do not need to do anything with these scenarios; their purpose is to provide realistic examples of how you would use CalTopo at different stages in the incident response process.

Scenario #1: Missing Dementia Patient in a Suburban Area

View this Map: Boulder Search Example

The first scenario we will consider involves a missing 73 year old female with dementia and a history of getting disoriented and lost. She disappeared while on a walk with her family in their suburban neighborhood in Boulder, CO when the family members became distracted. Below is the search map for this scenario with the initial information received.

View this Map in CalTopo.

Scenario #2: Missing Hiker in a Rural Area

View this map: Kentucky Search Example

Now let’s compare this to a different example in a rural area. In our next scenario, a 45-year old male is reported missing after he failed to check out of a hostel in Pine Ridge, KY. His car was later found by a sheriff’s deputy at the Rock Bridge Trailhead and he is believed to have been out hiking in the area.

View this Map in CalTopo.

Scenario #3: Missing Mountaineer in the Cascades

View this map: Dragontail Example Search

Finally, let’s introduce one last example. In this scenario, a 30-year-old male is reported missing in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness outside Leavenworth, WA. His goal was to climb Dragontail Peak from the Mountaineer Creek Trailhead in a single day and his wife reported him missing after he failed to call or return home the previous night.

View this Map in CalTopo.


Exercises to be completed by the learner are also present throughout each chapter and indicated by an orange callout box that appears at the end of the relevant section. Exercises will allow you to practice and apply what you are learning to an ongoing mock incident that is introduced in the first chapter and continues throughout the rest of the course. An example of an exercise as it appears in the course is shown below.

Exercise #X

Instructions for the exercise will be here. They will tell you what to add to your map, which should be based on the skills you were just learning about for that section.

The exercises will lead you through creating a mission map for a missing person scenario. Details of the scenario will be included in the exercise instructions.

Grading Criteria:

  • Grading Criteria sections will list each item that must be done or included on your map before submission.
  • Map submissions that do not include all grading criteria may be rejected from receiving a certificate.

Reference Links:

Exercises are designed to be completed in the order that they appear in the course. Unless otherwise stated, each exercise builds off the previous exercises and should be completed in the same CalTopo map that you begin with for Exercise #1.

By the end of the course, you should have one CalTopo exercise map in which you’ve completed all the exercises in order. It will include data from the hasty search phase all the way through the final operational period.

Now, let's get started with the Initial Response and Hasty Search.

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