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A bumper sticker on my truck reads: “Support your local Search and Rescue … Get lost!” Unfortunately, some people take this message to heart, but thankfully there are Search and Rescue (SAR) professionals who have dedicated their time and talents to find these “supporters.”

As with any first responders, getting relevant data about the situation is important, but understanding what the data mean is something completely different. Data analysis comes down to two things: speed and meaning. Smartphone and tablet applications have become force multipliers for SAR teams and the operations they perform, and two specific applications have become mainstays: dbS Productions’ Lost Person Behavior and Ezaero Ltd.’s SAR Track.

Where Did They Go?

The Lost Person Behavior app is based on the SAR international gold-standard reference tool: Analysis of Lost Person Behaviors by William Syrotuck. This book was first written in 1976 after studying 229 cases of lost persons and where these people were found, illustrating typical patterns for success in finding lost persons.

This person was successfully rescued in 3.5 hours because the data pointed the search team toward the correct location.

This person was successfully rescued in 3.5 hours because the data pointed the search team toward the correct location.

Every SAR professional needs to know where the missing person was last seen, what questions to ask, where to start looking and what to do when minutes matter. The application helps users select the correct subject category by utilizing a wizard to select potential scenarios; the wizard then suggests the best match for the subject category. For example, if a child was riding his or her bicycle and thought to be abducted, the user could select Child, Wheel/Motorized and Abduction; the wizard would suggest using the abduction category. Questions then are generated to flush out the details to help determine where to look, which is one of the major functions and advantages of this app.

Monitoring the Search

The SAR Track app is used during the actual search, after mission planners have sent a team into the field. The application allows search leaders (performing air or ground operations) to track search patterns and make notes, such as where clues were found or when communication with base camp occurred or identifying areas that couldn’t be accessed.

During debriefing after the search operation, data collected during the search can be quickly accessed and downloaded, so mission planners can update their database to refine search patterns or focus based on new data from each operation.

Can Apps Make a Difference?

As an illustration, consider that a lost person capable of traveling three miles in any direction would result in a search area covering 28 square miles, requiring approximately 264 searchers 12 days to cover such an area. Therefore, SAR professionals try to reduce the search to the most-likely area the lost person traveled, and this is where search app become a force multiplier. The ability to effectively minimize the search area leads to the greatest success and impact to a lost person and their chances for survival.

Nearly 50 percent of all lost-person deaths occur within the first 24 hours, and success rates drop by half when the search enters day two. Such urgency drives searchers to understand the data, through analysis, to the greatest degree possible and develop better systems and procedures to help those in need.

Because searches can last for hours, SAR professionals rely on other applications as well, such as first aid, knot tying and GPS, because being tired isn’t an option when a lost person is found. These applications are used as reference material to help care for the victim until the search team can evacuate him or her to professional medical personnel.

There’s only one underlying fact in Search and Rescue: when minutes matter, seconds count.


Leopoldo Contreras III is the chief strategy officer for Analytical Consulting Group LLC; e-mail: leo.contreras@analyticalcg.com.Version 2

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