Search and rescue

Nepal - Earthquake - Kathmandu - USAR sectors (as of 29 Apr 2015)

Maps produced during a humanitarian response to earthquakes, focusing on the hazards and impacts that typically characterise these emergencies. They should facilitate a timely response to earthquake disasters, focusing on anticipated hazards such as aftershocks, and the impacts of this type of event. Maps may be produced to coordinate urban search and rescue (USAR) efforts, to visualise access to affected areas, to analyse patterns of structural damage and assessed needs, or to plan a humanitarian response across multiple sectors.

Strategic or operational?


Basemap, baseline or situational?


When might it be produced?

Usually early on in the response, to provide initial predictive or actual impact information that can then highlight priorities for life-saving responses including urban search and rescue, and to focus in-field damage and needs assessment on areas most likely to be affected.

Intended audience

All responders, but particularly those operating across the wider affected area, and including actors working on assessment processes and response planning and coordination.

Influence on humanitarian decisions

Earthquakes often affect very wide areas, much of which may be rendered inaccessible by the disaster. Initial response decisions including resource mobilisation should be taken in light of what can be inferred from predictors of physical damage, including geophysical mapping. However, such predictors should be used with caution, and should be triangulated as soon as possible with mapping of primary data such as field assessment reports.

Operationally, search and rescue teams require rapid detailed maps of collapsed site locations and search sector boundaries, as well as hospital locations and status, base of operations and other resources.


It is important to get street level mapping produced as early as possible, and the inclusion of satellite or aerial imagery may also help responders identify key features on the ground.

When producing a sector map use linear features that are easily identifiable on the ground post- earthquake, such as broad roads or rivers. Maps should include building outlines where possible or give an indication of building and population density. The greater the density the smaller the sectors should be, as these will most likely take the longest to search. Initial sectors may be quite large to begin with, but smaller sub-sectors may be created. Each sector or sub-sector should be given a unique ID so that rescue teams can identify them more easily. Maps should include a table showing the sector’s ID, the team that is working the area, and the team type (heavy, medium or light).


  • Roads
  • Building Type
  • Place names
  • Points of Interest
  • Hospitals
  • Analysed satellite imagery to identify building damage; but be cautious because analysis methods may not have been standardised or reliable, and take special care to identify areas that have not been analysed.