Sunday, 18 March 2012

SAR Starting Point One

When does Search and Rescue (SAR) start looking for for you? Where do they start looking? How long do they look for? These are three important questions and by understanding the answers, you can greatly increase your chances of survival. This article addresses the first of these questions.

Not long now Mr Frodo
The answer is simple; SAR starts looking when they think you're missing. But when does that occur? It's normally triggered by one of two events. The first is when someone notices that you are missing, worries and reports it. This time has a number of factors.

When I was a child, if I was told to get back at 6, I was back at 6. Conversely, a friend of mine was so poor at time keeping, that it was not be unlikely for him to get back at eight, though he'd not stay out after dark. So, if we'd both been involved in an accident at half five, my parents would have worried half an hour after the fact, but my mate's would have worried some hours later.

So the first factor of when someone worries is all about you. If you're the type to stick to deadlines, then when that deadline has passed, people may notice, if not, then they'll continue to make excuses for you until such time has passed that the situation is considered abnormal.

Where are we again?
But what if there were no deadline? When would people start to worry? If you're the type, like me, to text your partner every day when you're away, then not receiving a message would be a concern. For some, even then an excuse could be made. "It's late, he'll be tired", "he's likely got no signal", "he's probably having fun and forgot". If you're not that guy, then it could be days before anyone noticed. Even not turning up to work can have a day or more of lag before someone decides to call the authorities. 

On a course in the Lake District, I asked the question, "if we hit a survival situation right now, when would someone call the authorities?" The answers ranged from "tomorrow" to "a couple of weeks". Clearly, that time range can have a significant impact on survivability. 

The second reason that the troops come looking is that something has happened, like a plane crash. In reality, this is the same as the above since all that has happened is that the plane has not met its deadline, due to the regulations associated with the laying down of flight plans. The only difference is that the trigger is the plane, not the passengers. 

So what does this tell us, if we want SAR to come looking as soon as possible after we get in trouble? It tells us that we have to set up a system whereby, if a certain amount of time has passed, someone will call someone. This might be as simple as having someone that you check in with every day, without fail and who won't muck about if you don't. Another might be to log a route plan and deadline with the authorities themselves. The police stations around at least Dartmoor, Mountain Rescue, the Coastguard and even the camp site and pub will take a note. I leave one in my car windscreen if I'm hiking. All of these methods will get the wheels in motion as soon as possible.

If you think that telling people where you're going and when you should be back lacks spontaneity, then you have to accept the risk that should you find yourself up the proverbial creek, the the man with the paddle is going to be somewhat later than you might like.

Here's a final note for those on the other end of this process. As a member of a SAR organisation, we'd much rather be called early to a false alarm than late to a crisis, so don't mess around if you really think there might be a problem. 

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