Field Guide for Palouse/Clearwater Search & Rescue Members
Based upon work by Graham Driskell, 1994-1995
I. PCSAR and Latah County Search and Rescue Council *
A. Vehicle Posse *
B. Horse Posse *
C. North Idaho Trackers *
D. Search Dogs *
E. Civil Air Patrol *
II. Role of PCSAR *
III. The Subject *
A. Who Becomes Lost? *
B. Reaction to Becoming Lost *
C. Subject Movement *
D. Subject Situation *
IV. The Searcher *
A. General Expectations *
B. Training *
C. Equipment *
V. The Search *
A. Check In and Check Out *
B. Overhead Team - Search Management *
C. Team Formation and Team Leaders *
D. Types of Search *
VI. Search Methods *
A. Hasty Search *
B. Purposeful Wandering *
C. Tight Grid Search *
D. Evidence Search *
VII. The Search as a Crime Scene *
A. Rules of Evidence *
B. Taking Notes *
Palouse/Clearwater Search and Rescue is a unit of Latah County Search and Rescue Council and has a large variety of resources available should we need them on a search. Palouse/Clearwater Search and Rescue is the unit that does the walking when a search is called, but that is not the whole extent of what we do. Because we are solely a ground unit, we have the most extensive training in ground search techniques of the entire Latah County Search and Rescue Council. We train in high angle rescues, medical evacuation, and a host of other highly specialized rescue operations.
All of Latah SAR's resources coordinate through the Latah County Sheriff's Office. Other resources from outside our immediate area are also available should the need arise. Examples include helicopters from Spokane, and search dogs from Post Falls. Using the helicopters, we can get search dogs into the field quickly.
We also assist the St. Joe Valley SAR if they require it, and they in turn assist us should we need the extra personnel. In addition, we are the primary response unit for Whitman County, Washington.
On an actual search, PCSAR very often has teams attached to other units in a support role. These units include the Sheriff's Mounted Posse (Horse Posse), North Idaho Trackers, Search Dog teams, Vehicle Posse, Civil Air Patrol, Snowdrifters (snowmobiles). Each of these units is trained in specific aspects of search and rescue techniques, and when used in combination with each other they make a very effective search unit.
The Vehicle Posse is responsible for setting up and maintaining the perimeter of the search area, once the Search Coordinator has established it. In addition, vehicles are used to transport PCSAR teams to and from the field. Vehicle Posse members use their four-wheel drive vehicles to cover rough roads that are inaccessible to normal vehicles. They can cover more roaded territory more rapidly than other teams or units. Their disadvantage is that they are in vehicles, and thus can easily miss clues that a ground team would probably see.
Much like the Vehicle Posse, the Horse Posse is a part of the Sheriff's Office, though they ride horses rather than drive. The Horse Posse coordinates with ground teams, and in many cases are tightly coordinated. Because they are on horseback, Horse Posse teams can cover a greater amount of territory than teams on foot, as long as that territory is navigable by horse. Members of the Horse Posse can often see clues better than Vehicle Posse members.
When encountering a Horse Posse team in the field, there are certain dos and don'ts for ground teams that make it less likely for the horse to spook:
North Idaho Trackers are a group of highly trained individuals who specialize in the tracking of human beings. Because of the unique nature of each person's footprint, and because walking humans generally leave a clue about every 24 inches, the North Idaho Trackers are able to distinguish one person's tracks from another. Although the North Idaho Trackers are highly trained to a level that very few of us will achieve, we can become clue-aware. Clue awareness is described later in this manual.
The training that the trackers have taken allows them to eliminate tracks that were not made by the search subject, and thereby speed the search process. As with the Horse Posse, there are certain things that should be done and things that should not.
Search dogs are an important part of any search effort because the dog can "scent" the subject either on the ground, or by what is known as "air scenting". In either case, the dog can detect scent molecules at a great distance, though weather and terrain affect the actual distance. PCSAR members may be assigned to dog teams; if you are on such a team, ask the dog's handler if there are any specific instructions that they would like you to follow when working with a particular animal.
The Civil Air Patrol is an auxiliary branch of the United States Air Force, and as such has access to fixed wing aircraft. In most cases CAP members are organized as ground teams. CAP members have additional training in air to ground communications.
PCSAR's main mission is to put teams into the field to search for lost subjects and to get them to safety. Teams of 3 to 8 people are formed at Base Camp and are headed by a Team Leader. Team Leaders are discussed in detail in a later topic.
PCSAR also is the major source of support, also called overhead, personnel. People are needed to organize the search, including:
PCSAR members may also be attached for liaison to teams made up primarily of people from other units.
Almost anyone can become lost due to a variety of factors. Subjects can rang from the young to elderly. They can be hunters, hikers, mountain bikers, or Alzheimer patients. They can become lost because of unfamiliarity with the terrain, weather changes, poor judgment, or bad luck. Whatever the reason for becoming lost, a lost person is (at least initially) an emergency.
Reactions to becoming lost vary widely. Some people panic and wander aimlessly, quickly tiring themselves. Others stop where they are and make themselves as comfortable as possible, awaiting rescue. Predictions of an individual's behavior are fuzzy, although search managers have general expectations. The operative thinking is to hope for the best while preparing for the worst.
Although we hope that a subject will stay put upon realizing that he/she is lost, this does not always happen. Depending upon the subject's mental condition (which changes as he/she remains lost, his/her energy wanes, and time passes), he/she may move in what to the searcher seems an irrational manner. A primary search objective is to use clues to determine the subject's movement.
An injured subject is unlikely to move very far after the injury occurs. This aids searchers by reducing the possible search area. However, moving an injured person is much more difficult. It is important that an injured subject be given the best possible medical treatment, remembering to not exceed the searcher's level of training. An untrained person can do more harm than good, and could end up as the defendant in a lawsuit.
If you are on a team that finds an injured person, immediately do two things. First, determine the condition of the subject. The person with the most medical training takes charge. For example, if you are trained at the Basic First Aid level and another person has Medical First Responder training, the Medical First Responder takes charge. Second, notify Base Camp of the subject's condition and the team's location. Base Camp will give instructions from that point, and will create an evacuation team if it is necessary.
Searches are conducted in which the subject is merely lost; for example overdue hunters or day-hikers. In this situation the subject has suffered no adverse effects from his/her experience, and only needs the assistance of Search and Rescue to get out of the woods. These are (thankfully) the majority of the searches conducted in Latah County. This type of search is also the most common type of urban search (see The Search As a Crime Scene).
Occasions arise in which a person becomes ill while in the woods. Causes include chronic ones such as diabetes or angina, or acute ones such as cardiac arrest, influenza, or food poisoning. If a person is known to have a medical condition, you learn it in your briefing. There are times when a condition such as diabetes directly contributes to the subject becoming lost, and as a searcher you should become familiar with medical conditions and their effects upon a person's judgment.
The runaway or unwilling subject presents special problems for searchers. It is difficult enough to find someone who wants to be found. A person who is actively avoiding searchers can prove extremely difficult (and frustrating) to locate and "run to ground". Unwilling subjects' reasons for avoiding searchers range from teenagers running away from home to fugitives from the law. The latter happened in 1992, and in searches like this, uniformed Sheriff's officers are added to teams.
In another, fairly frequent, search scenario, a subject is reported missing, but is actually at a location unknown to the reporting party. One essential part of any search is to check these other locations, and if the subject is found there, to start one's address to him/her with "You Bastard!"
Although most searchers would prefer not to admit it, there are times when the subject has died before a search has been started. These fatalities could be from heart attack, gunshot wound, hypothermia, or a myriad other causes. If a deceased subject is found, Base Camp needs to be notified, and the scene must be protected as a potential crime scene. Since family and friends of the subject may hear radio traffic, the event is reported using a special "death code" that communicates the situation to the Search Coordinator so that he/she can control the notification of loved ones. The death code to be used for a particular team and search is stated in the briefing, and is recorded on the Team Assignment Sheet.
Encountering a deceased subject is a traumatic situation for the search team. Take time to compose yourself before commencing radio transmissions. Avoid blaming yourself with "if I had only done " It is unlikely that there really was much that you could have done to change the situation.
Once the death has been reported, secure the area for Law Enforcement personnel. Do nothing to further alter the scene, since it can provide a wealth of forensic evidence to the investigating officer, especially clues as to what happened to the person prior to his or her death. Also see the section on The Search as a Crime Scene.
As a search and rescue member, keep these expectations in mind:
Palouse/Clearwater Search and Rescue members are trained to at least "Basic First Aid" level. Free First Aid classes are given periodically by certified instructors from Latah County Search and Rescue units, and are oriented to SAR conditions. Completion of any Basic First Aid course (including CPR) is sufficient to qualify. Individuals are encouraged to acquire further training, (i.e. First Responder and E. M. T.) although costs are borne by the individual.
Members are trained in the techniques and procedures used on a search.. This includes the techniques of searching an area, callout procedures, Base Camp setup and procedures, briefing and debriefing, communications, and search termination.
Search and rescue members are trained to become "clue aware". This means that searchers are looking for and are able to discern the various types of clues that a subject leaves. The most important clue is the subject! Probably next most important is footprints because they can lead a searcher to the subject. Only one type of animal leaves footprints like those of humans, and they leave tracks that are discernable by a trained tracker. Humans usually wear shoes, and this usually allows a tracker to identify a particular human.
Subjects may also leave objects behind: candy wrappers, cigarette butts, peelings, gear, and clothing. If a subject is known to have had objects with him/her, the careful search for and reporting of found objects can confirm a subject's direction of travel and status.
Clue Awareness training sessions are held periodically throughout the year by members of North Idaho Trackers, most often at the spring or fall training and practice searches.
Often you may see searchers with ski poles in the field. The poles aid a trained tracker in following tracks. Using rubber rings on the pole, a tracker is able to mark the length of the subject's footprint and the length of his/her stride. By moving the pole in a 30° arc from one print, the tracker can speedily discover the succeeding print, and thus get a good idea of the direction and speed of travel.
Palouse/Clearwater is the only unit of Latah SAR that does low-angle rope rescue work. We have a core of trained members, though relatively few members actually go "over the edge". For every person who goes over, four or five people are needed to support. If you are interested in this type of training, there is ample opportunity to participate. Training sessions of this type are announced at the regular membership meetings, and reminders appear in the monthly minutes.
As noted earlier, search dogs can detect a subject either by air scenting or ground scenting, at distances up to a mile. The dog obtains the subject's scent from "scent articles" perhaps the subject's pillowcase, socks or underwear. Scent articles are kept in brown paper bags to keep them pristine, avoiding contamination by other people's scents or the perfumes often found in plastic bags. Scent article handling should be minimized, and tweezers or tongs should be used.
Palouse/Clearwater Search and Rescue members may be called on to work with a dog team, providing communications, support, or liaison. Here are some basic rules:
The ability to effectively navigate in the woods is essential to search and rescue work. It is important to learn and to maintain these skills. A thorough knowledge of map and compass and the Public Lands Survey System (Township, Range, Section...) is needed to communicate position between a team and Base Camp. It is also usual for each search team to carry a GPS receiver, and knowing how to use one is invaluable to search management. Navigation training is conducted from time to time in training sessions, as well as periodically at general meetings.
Each searcher is expected to be equipped with personal gear as shown below. Gear such as radios, harnesses, GPS receivers, rope rescue materials and maps are distributed from supplies carried in county SAR vehicles.
Your choice of clothing is important because SAR is often activated in bad weather (this is often the reason why a person is lost), and you are needed to remain warm and useful as a searcher, rather than being another subject of rescue. Rescuing a searcher is probably easier than finding and rescuing a subject, but it diverts valuable resources from the primary task.
The Latah County Search and Rescue policy is that cotton articles, especially blue jeans, are generally not allowed in the field. This is especially true in cool weather. As cotton gets wet from perspiration it conducts the heat needed to perform evaporation from the body at a much greater rate than other materials. We recommend wool or appropriate polyester clothing which stay warm when they are wet. Inexpensive wool clothing is still available in this area. We dress for utility, not fashion!
Your boots should keep your feet comfortable, warm and dry, given that you may be walking for hours through snow, slush, and several inches of water. "Tennis boots" are not recommended unless the weather is warm and dry.
You are expected to assemble a lightweight pack that contains everything you need to keep yourself and someone else alive for 24 hours. Since you are part of a team, not every person needs to carry every item. Lists of recommended items are periodically distributed; they serve as a guideline for your personal list. Your pack must be comfortable for you to wear for long periods in the field. It should be checked periodically, especially in early fall. Check for wear that could result in an equipment failure in the field and thus another subject rather than a rescuer. Food stocks may need periodic refreshing. A supply of water is always needed. It may be added as you prepare to respond to a search callout.
To give newer members an idea of what a 24-hour pack should contain, periodically an experienced member demonstrates his or her pack
The 48-hour pack is usually a frame type pack that contains the 24-hour pack, plus a sleeping bag, tent (shared among team members), and other gear needed to keep the team functioning for two days. This does not mean that you should pack more of everything you still need to keep the pack weight to a value that allows you to search for an extended period.
Rope rescue equipment commonly consists of personal safety line and harness, plus shared ropes and hardware. The equipment is used to provide a controlled descent for a searcher on a scree or sloped area. If a high-angle rescue becomes necessary, notify Base Camp so that appropriate resources can be obtained.
Radios are assigned to search teams as they prepare to commence a search. Typically, one team member takes responsibility for communications. Ground teams carry a handheld transceiver (HT). The unit is relatively delicate. HT's do not take well to abuse like dropping or immersion. They transmit at relatively low power (less than 5 watts) with an inefficient (but compact!) antenna. They run from a battery pack whose efficiency is significantly impaired by low temperature. This means that the HT must be treated with great care.
Whenever you enter or leave a search area, make sure that you have checked in or out with the person handling this function. You will usually be stopped as you initially reach Base Camp, but it might be less likely that you will be intercepted as you leave. It is important that you do that so that the Search Management team can be sure that every searcher is accounted for when the search ends. Checking in also generates information about available human resources.
When you are assigned to a team, be sure that your name appears on the Team Assignment Sheet that is kept in Base Camp.
If you drive a vehicle to a search, keep track of your mileage. The SAR Council reports resource usage, including searcher time, vehicle miles, and other resource (e.g. dog, horse, snowmobile ) hours.
The group of people directing, planning, and supplying the search are known as the Overhead Team or Search Management Team. These people have been trained in search theory and deployment of resources. The person ultimately in charge is the Incident Commander (IC). Different people may have the IC position as the search progresses and fresh people replace tired ones.
Ground teams are formed on the bases of the training and experience of available members. A team is just that, a team, with all that the word implies. There is no room for individual heroics on a search team. Such actions can put team members into serious jeopardy, making the team part of the problem rather than the solution. An Overhead Team member assigns people to teams based upon his/her knowledge of the searcher's training and abilities. Friendship is rarely considered when assigning team members. Instead, the Overhead Team is concerned with getting teams into the field as rapidly as practicable.
Although Team Leaders have received special training, they do not have the final say in the team's decision making process. Decisions are made by the team, with the leader offering valuable judgment and expertise.
This is the most common search that PCSAR conducts. Ground teams are sent into areas where the subject is thought to be. These areas are often rugged, with downed trees to impede the searchers' progress, steep hills to make the job physically demanding, and cold weather with precipitation to sap searchers' energy. The currently favored search technique is "purposeful wandering" as described below. Although teams should be prepared for a stay of up to 48 hours, we have been fortunate that most searches (or at least team assignments) are less than four hours.
Urban searches do not involve rugged territory, but usually involves a larger area to cover. Clues (e.g. footprints) may be harder to find, but more witnesses to the subject's movements may exist. A careful canvass of the area where the subject was last seen can turn up someone who saw the subject, including the direction of travel. In most cases, the canvass of the area will have been done by law enforcement, but when you are out searching, be sure to ask the people you see if they have seen the subject. You may be fortunate to have a picture of the subject show it to passers by and describe the subject's clothing.
Urban search subjects include lost children, elderly, and disoriented people. Alzheimer's patients comprise a large part of the elderly "walkaways". The movements of this type of patient are hard to anticipate because of the nature of the subject's thought processes. Also, when found, these patients might be combative or react in unexpected ways. The subject's medical and mental state should be part of the briefing; if you do not receive this information be sure to ask for it.
A ground team's search procedure depends upon the situation. The briefing should include the type of search method to be used. The methods range from fast sweeps that cover a lot of ground but are not intensive to slow, painstaking searches. In all search types, remember to occasionally look behind you. It seems that many clues are found that way.
This type of search is typically used early in the search when the subject is thought to have followed trails or roads. The search team of three or four follows a trail or road at top speed, searching for clues like footprints. Team members do not walk on the trail or road, but parallel to it in order to preserve clues. Team members call for the subject as they go. The area searched is usually just the trail or road and a few feet or yards to each side.
When a clue is found, the team informs Base Camp.
This type of search is an upgrade from the grid search that appears in the movies in which 50 people line up and move through the woods. Rather than walking parallel tracks along a search sweep path, the team of three to six searchers covers an area delineated by landmarks, often not a road or trail, specified during the briefing. The team may make several parallel passes (sweeps) through the area. The team member at one end of the line guides the team from the known landmarks, while the member on the other end marks the extent of the sweep with flagging tape. The width of the sweep is adjusted so that there is an overlap of the areas that adjacent members search. Members call for the subject, and they talk with each other to make sure that they are overlapping their searching and that the team is progressing at about the same rate along the sweep path. Multiple sweeps are done until the assigned area has been searched.
To cover the designated area, often 20 to 50 feet wide, each searcher's path goes from side to side. Open areas require less zigzagging than brushy areas that need more thorough investigation. If a clue is found, the team stops and reports to Base Camp. Once Base Camp has reacted to the clue, the team continues.
This type of search is used when relatively small clues are being sought, for instance, candy wrappers or cigarette butts. Searchers make sweeps through the search area in tight formation perhaps a spacing of 4-10 feet. Rather than wandering, members stay in formation during each sweep. This type of search takes significant resources. Consider an 8-member team searching an area that's a quarter mile square. Eight people at 10-foot spacing covers an 80-foot swath at perhaps one mile per hour (or one-quarter mile in 15 minutes). This requires 17 sweeps, which takes over four hours.
This type of search is used to look for evidence at a crime scene, perhaps a bullet, casing, or other tiny clue. Searchers are literally on their hands and knees. Often the area is gridded into one-meter squares using string. Searchers carefully investigate each square, perhaps removing vegetation to a place outside the search area.
Unless positive proof to the contrary is present, every search scene is considered and treated as the scene of a crime. The reason for a subject's disappearance is, hopefully, inattention or accident, but it could be because of abduction, rape or murder. A criminal investigation requires certain procedures, and searchers are part of the criminal investigation team.
First, do no harm. If you find a clue, do not move or touch it (unless it is in immediate danger of destruction). Contact Base Camp to report the clue, then mark it and note it in your field notes. Include the date and time, location, description, and condition.
If Base Camp directs you to remove the evidence, you should avoid handling it directly. Use tweezers to handle the item, and place it in a plastic bag. Place that bag, plus a piece of paper containing the name of the person who collected the evidence, the date and time, and the location, in another plastic bag. If there is any doubt as to how to proceed, contact Base Camp.
If you are equipped with a camera, take two photos of the evidence. The first should show the evidence exactly as you found it. The second should include an item (a ruler or knife) that can show the scale of the photo.
In law enforcement, a concept called "chain of evidence" exists. It means that any item used as evidence must have a trail showing which people have handled the evidence from the time it is discovered until it is used in court. If you find evidence, it is vital that the chain is not broken by what you did or failed to do. If you are the first to find evidence and preserve it, when you hand it over to a law enforcement officer, be sure to record when and to whom you gave it.
If you are among the first people to investigate a vehicle, approach it obliquely so that you will not obliterate footprints. This way Trackers can record any footprints. When you leave the vehicle, try to retrace your approach route. If you have found evidence of a crime scene, mark your footprints as above.
If you encounter what appears to be a deceased person, send one person to approach the person to investigate, again trying to avoid disturbing the scene as much as possible. This makes it easier for Trackers to determine whether the person was alone at death. Remember that the area around the body offers the best source of evidence of a potential crime. If possible, cordon the area with flagging tape to keep it pristine. A distance of 50 feet might be a good working distance.
Searchers should keep notes ("field notes") so that they will have a written record of what transpired on a search. This is important because in these days of "litigation fever" there is a possibility that you will be called to testify in court. Good notes allow you to be able to relate in a courtroom what happened during a search. While you may believe that you have an infallible memory, in court a person working from memory is a less credible witness (if he/she is used at all) than one working from notes. It is rare that field notes would be subpoenaed by the court or attorneys, so your notes don't need to be a running commentary on the search, but they do need to contain a record of the important things that transpired, and they need to be legible. If you can't read your own notes, you are not a credible witness!
Items to include in your notes include the date and time for each entry, the location, a list of team members, the weather conditions, lighting, your route or assignment, what you found, decisions that were made, and people who were contacted. You could also include sketches of clue sites, topography, and other information that could be better communicated graphically.PCSAR 08/02/2011 (GB)