An example search

There is no such thing as a typical search – every search varies from the last – but to give you an idea of what a lowland search involves, here is an example of what may happen:

The Incoming Call:

Not many people receive emergency calls from the police, but OxSAR’s search coordinators do. It may be after a long day’s work just, when they’ve sat down for dinner that their pulse quickens as they recognise the ring-tone – it’s an incoming call from the police. The search coordinator will talk to the police, discuss the options and get the information we need to plan a search. They will then trigger the call out system, send a message out to the team and receive the responses.

The Call Out:

When an alert gets sent out, all trained members will receive a regular text message with details about the call out, primarily where they need to go – the “RV” point. There is no obligation for a member to attend a search – we’re all volunteers and recognise that some commitments need to be kept – so we ensure that we’ve always got enough members on-call to be able to manage an appropriate response. The member response with a “yes” or a “no” and the time they will be at the “RV”. They quickly arrange who will take the control van and make their way there. Our control van is a mobile office and equipment store with the essential communications equipment, water safety gear and, importantly, detailed mapping. Once our members arrive, their first priority is to quickly set this up and then wait for a briefing.

The Search Plan:

While this is happening, a search planner is making their way to the scene and will take a full briefing from the police when they arrive – they will use this information, along with their books of missing person statistics to determine likely scenarios for what may have happened and where a missing person may be. Using those scenarios the search planner will create search tasks and start briefing the team.

The Search Team:

A search team usually consists of two or three search technicians and one team leader. Our training ensures that team members have the necessary skills to navigate the terrain, search it effectively, safely and quickly, and to communicate back to control their progress. The team will move quite quickly over the ground and may be spread out, we focus our efforts on finding missing people quickly, not on looking for all clues, and our techniques are designed to maximise the probability of detection – i.e. the likely hood that will will find the missing person. Usually a search sector will last for two or three hours and a team can be given multiple sectors to search. We area also able to call upon specialist search dogs to help and in those cases deploy one dog, a handler and a support person as a team.

The Find:

When a search team finds a missing person, our first job is to medically assess them and then we transport them to a safe place where they can receive advanced medical care from the Ambulance service if required. Not all searches end with a find, occasionally we exhaust all the planned scenarios and need more information from the police before we can continue searching. As a member of ALSAR – the national body that oversees Lowland Search and Rescue – we are able to call teams from neighbouring areas and request help, this is especially useful on searches that last multiple days.

The Debrief:

When a search is stood down, all the teams are debriefed, the kit needs cleaning, packing up and preparing for next time and the paperwork has to be finished. There will normally be a debrief with the police as well and then our members are able to go back to their beds/jobs/families.