Google Earth: search & rescue

Grade level: Grades 6-­8

by Thomas Petra


  • Plan and simulate a search and rescue operation
  • Choose and map a SAR search pattern
  • Compute time travelled using a rate
  • Justify problem solving decisions
  • Determine success of the SAR operation



Students work in groups as emergency responders on a search and rescue mission at sea. After identifying pertinent variables of the situation they become acquainted with U.S. Coast Guard search patterns and procedures. They are given a helicopter and cutter to perform the search but need to take into account each vehicle’s limits. Once the groups have gathered the necessary information they need to decide how to conduct their search using the equipment and data available to them. Google Docs is a great resource to guide and record this exchange.

The SAR patterns are mapped in Google Earth. One path marks the cutter’s search pattern and another for the helicopter. The search vehicles’ speed needs to be used to calculate each turn in the pattern. This is marked in Google Earth with placemarks denoting the time.

Once the students submit their SAR plan, the teacher shares an additional Google Earth file that contains the drift path of the missing individual. The students then determine whether or not they were successful.

Additional notes:

  • This is a project-­‐based learning activity. The time frame of completion should last one week or more.
  • As a follow up to the activity, take your students on a field trip to learn about local emergency responders.
  • is a web resource for teachers. Please don’t share the web address with students.

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