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Compass / GPS

While GPS units are normally used during searches (see information below), map and compass skills are still important to know. Canine handlers will need to accurately report their location, the location of missing subjects or a clues to Search Managers.


Topo Maps


During a search you may be given an aerial map or a topographic map. A topo map is a paper representation of ground features for a specific area or region. Terrain, mountains, valleys, streams, rivers and man-made features such as roads, railroads, buildings, dams, and levees are all represented on a topo map. Topo maps also display contour lines. These brown lines show elevation changes. Contour lines also identify physical features in the area. The distance between Contour Lines indicate how steep the terrain is. The contour interval is found in the map scale. For example if the contour interval is 50 feet, every time you go up to another brown line, the elevation increases by 50 feet. Therefore, the closer the contour lines are to each other, the steeper the ascent or descent. There are two thicknesses of contour lines. The heavier lines are called index contours and are usually marked with numbers that give the height in feet or meters.


The Scale is found at the bottom center of the topo map. The ratio scale of 1:24,000 is commonly used for search and rescue. The graphic scale represents distance in miles, feet and meters and used to make estimates of distances on the map. The numbers running around the outside of the map represent two grid systems that can be used to find exact locations on a map. Latitude and longitude, are given at each corner of the map and in equally-spaced intervals between the corners. UTMs are the smaller bold numbers. To determine location, read the easting marks at the top and bottom of the map from left to right. Vertical position is given in meters north. Northing marks on each side of the map are read from the bottom up. Horizontal position is given in meters east. These are referred to as easting and northing positions.


When reading remember this saying "read right up, meaning your first reading is going from left to right (easting) and then from the bottom up (northing).Using a grid reader makes it easier to determine your location on a topo map. These small plastic grids are placed over quads or squares on the map. Using the grid reader you can pinpoint specific locations within that quad.




Take the time to get to know the parts of a compass. Orienteering compasses work very well and the straight edges on the sides can be used to measure distances and determine headings on topo maps. Taking a bearing...

1. Orient the Map - Line up compass edge along the outside border line of the map and rotate your body, compass and map in unison until the arrow is pointing to north on the compass. Once they are lined, do not move your map! You have now oriented the map to magnetic north.

2. Point the Compass to Your Destination - Line up one side of your compass, drawing imaginary line from the place you are to where you want to go to. Important - compass should point in the direction you want to go.

3. Set the Compass Heading: Turn Compass Dial until N points to true north on your map. The Orienting Lines should now be parallel with the (North-South) map grid lines. Your direction or true bearing in degrees is read at the Index Line on the Compass Dial.

4. Follow Your Heading: Now, while holding the compass in front of you with the Direction-of-Travel Arrow pointing away from your body, rotate your body along with the compass until the red needle faces North. You should now be facing the direction you are going. Pick a visible landmark on the horizon that lines up with your direction of travel arrow. Now put your compass away and walk toward it. Be sure to learn more and practice reading topo maps, using the compass and grid reader.


GPS Units

Handheld GPS units determine your exact position using signals from a network of satellites orbiting Earth. GPS units include built in maps and the ability to connect to computers to download routes.


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