It’s slow going to save lives
June 26, 2007
WELLINGTON – We’ve all seen the Western movies where the mounted scout trots along reading sign, occasionally dismounting to see which way a blade of grass is bending before moving on to find his quarry.
He leads the troops or posse right to the bad guy’s lair, where a fight ensues and the evil one is quickly dispatched to the cemetery or handcuffs.
According to veteran search-and-rescue expert Bob King, it’s a crock.
Tracking a person, or a group of people, is a slow, painstaking process, requiring hours of time in the hot sun or the cold wind.
Lyon County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue volunteers experienced the drudgery of the trail Saturday, when about a dozen members and recruits went out along Desert Creek in Risue Canyon near Wellington to find a trio of missing people – in reality, other team members.
Vice Commander Fred Atkinson said the team tries to practice in places they may be deployed and keep it as real as possible.
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The training exercise – two male Alzheimer’s patients took a nurse, whom both had romantic designs on – required the teams to not only find the three, but do it in the most effective possible way, King said, but not rushing.
He said first define the problem, set objectives, develop a plan of action, check resources and then take action.
“They are pretty simple steps, but in executing it, it gets pretty complicated,” King said. “But these people are well trained.”
King said those untrained in search and rescue, such as friends of family members of missing people, would see the assessment process as wasting time.
“They might think, ‘don’t just stand there, do something,'” King said. “But assessment is the most important part. If you get this wrong, then everything else will be wrong.”
The search operation is well-organized, with clear lines of command, King said. There is an incident commander, an operations specialist, planning and intelligence specialist and logistics specialists.
King, who has 30 years experience in search and rescue with several departments, said the incident commander is the overall leader. The operations specialist directs the rescue, planning and intelligence collects data and logistics operators make sure the rescuers have everything they need, including food, water, first aid and communications.
The squad has a command bus – King called it the nerve center – complete with communications, navigational and first aid equipment, as well as charts, plotter table lists and more.
“People running the show can look at the board and know who is assigned where and what is going on,” he said. “All communications will be with the command team, not between teams, except when there is helicopter support. Then it can be convenient to have communications between the helicopter and the ground team.”
King said the most important thing is communication.
If we don’t get that straight, it all turns to applesauce,” he said.
He said that during the evaluation process, searchers get as many facts as they can about the missing persons before they start, and often develop more as they go.
“Then you develop a most-likely scenario,” he said. “Then get a summary of the problem and use that on which to base your objective. Then develop a plan of action to meet the objective.”
Novice Emily Castle-Hukill, of Fernley, said she joined the rescue team because “I wanted to help people, and I love being outdoors.”
The teacher, who will teach at Fernley High School in the fall, was part of the initial search assessment team this time, though she eventually wants to pursue water-rescue training.
Volunteers must go through an 80-hour training course to be certified Investigative Man Tracking Search Associates. After that, they can pursue specialties, like swift-water rescue, first aid, CPR training, ATV searches, high-angle ropes and a boat crew that patrols Lake Lahontan.
Once they got their orders, the three rescuers doing the assessment went right to work identifying signs of the missing trio and found a direction the three traveled. After that, it was slow going, measuring each footprint located, measuring the stride and eliminating those not from the missing people.
Adding to the difficulty were several pickups full of campers or dog-walkers driving through the search area.
But, Atkinson said, it was a good exercise, though difficult for the searchers, especially since about eight of them were inexperienced.
He said the group did well, finding two of the three missing persons, or “rabbits” as he called them.
“The terrain was very rocky, difficult to track on, in a very narrow canyon with a lot of vehicular traffic that destroyed track,” he said. “They had to skirt around things and see if they could pick it up ahead without their own footprints obliterating track.”
• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at email@example.com or 882-2111 ext. 351.
You can help
To join Lyon County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue, call Vice Commander Fred Atkinson at 246-1630 or write to: P.O. Box 1932, Dayton, NV 89403.