Each month you need to submit hours to VFU. Every year you need to maintain a variety of certifications with expiration dates. Each month you train, and need to coordinate attendance. Every team deals with these activities. A few months ago, while at the State SAR Coordinators meeting, I listened to a presentation by a San Diego SAR volunteer who has written some software to help manage missions and teams. The product is called Mission Manager, and is available free of charge to SAR teams. It is a web app that has two funtions: It can be used to manage day-to-day team information and it can be used to manage a mission. The app is highly customizable, and examples of team information that can be tracked include: roster, an hour/miles log, attendance, issued gear, and certifications (with expiration dates). On the mission managing side you can generate a variety of maps with various coordinate systems and datums, generate standard ICS forms, track information such as clues and radio traffic during a search, and track teams in real-time via a smartphone app (Android, iOS, and Blackberry). It is a comprehensive piece of work. As such, a full review is not well suited to the space available here, but I will hit some of the highlights.
All manner of maps are possible with this tool. Google maps, USGS topo maps, and USFS maps are a few examples. In addition to these maps, there also exists the ability to overlay point of interest data as well as live weather data. While this is a web app, with a little forethought, you can download maps ahead of time to enable use without an internet connection. In fact, I have easily replaced MapTech Terrain Navigator for live search mapping duties including GPS uploads. With a good data connection it has the benefit of a single map that can be updated by multiple people, and viewed by anybody with a web connection and the appropriate permissions.
A full implementation of search management with Mission Manager starts with check-in. Members already in the system enter their name, email, or ID number to check-in. If it is a mutual aid response, then there also exists the capability of adding "guest members" that are not already in the system. Once the member is checked-in, their certifications are made available to search managers (current BMC skills? BSAR Sklills?), their miles are logged, as well as their window of availability. When they check out their hours and miles are added to their time keeping record for later report to VFU.
One the team member has checked in, then they can be added to teams and other positions in the ICS. Team construction is done by drag and drop, and a standard ICS team assignment sheet is created for printout. The radio log can be kept as well as a clue log. In my experience these are usually kept on paper then entered in the computer during lulls in the action.
All standard ICS forms can be generated with common information that is entered in mission info screens. These include the commo plan, medical plan, incident briefing, incident status, and team debrifing forms. There is also a reporting party interview screen where all of the missing person information can be entered (including a photo). This can then be printed out as a form to be distributed to search teams.
When the operation is complete all mission data can be exported, and a complete set of completed ICS forms can be generated for archiving.
The central piece of the team management features is the roster. With the roster entry for each member there is a photo, basic contact info, emergency contact info, allergies, and medication information is available as well as spaces for issued gear, and certifications completed. All of the certification and gear fields are customizable. Out of the box there are 40 available certification fields (you can add more), and 14 gear fields. In addition there are granular permissions that can be applied to each member granting them access to various levels of team management.
Time keeping is also configurable. For example, for my team I use the categories in the VFU report. This means that on the first of each month an email is automatically generated which reminds each team member to login in and enter their hours for the month. They select the date for each activity, the miles driven, the number of hours spent, the category for the hours, and what the activity was. This makes the end of the month hours report very easy to assemble since there is a report feature that allows one to generate team totals for each category. Very handy!
A team calendar is also provided. This calendar is handy because you can have an email reminder automatically sent that will ask members to RSVP to the event. The reminder interval is user configurable and can be as annoying as an email every day until the user responds. Their response will then be aggregated so that all can see the responses. This makes it much easier to plan.
When it comes time to audit certifications, attendance, issued gear, or whatever you have included for your team members, it is easy to print reports with all of the information. You can also set it up to remind people when their certification is set to expire, and to periodically notify them of their status.
I have only discussed a handful of the features available with Mission Manager, so I encourage you to check out the links at the beginning and set up your own account. My team has been using Mission Manager for about a year. I am a big fan of the team management features, but have only been able to try the mission management tools during training. While it is a web app, you can use it offline with a bit of forethought, but what I am finding is that there are fewer and fewer locations where a wireless web connection is not available. This is especially true during extended searches. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me. I can help you work through many issues. There is also a vibrant support community of fellow SAR members through out the US that are willing to help as well. The folks at Radishworks (author of Mission Manager) have done a great service to the SAR community. It is nice to see one of our own step up and fill a need for many SAR teams.