How does a search begin and what is involved?

A search begins when someone contacts their local police with a problem and the police determine that they require additional assistance. The police obtain this additional assistance by contacting the volunteer search and rescue unit in their immediate area. A callout for the local search and rescue unit is initiated and members start heading out to an agreed rendezvous point.

Once at the rendezvous point, a command post and base of operations is set up. This base of operations is staffed by a search manager, communications co-ordinator (responsible for radio communication) and the searchers. Once the base of operations is in place, the search can begin. Searchers sign in and are divided up into teams (groups of around 3-6 searchers). A team leader is assigned to each team. He/she attends a briefing with the search manager to determine the area their team will be covering and to receive important information such as a description of the missing person, where they were last seen, the direction they were heading, important behavioural information about them and any other relevant information.

The teams are then dispatched to their areas where they begin searching and looking for the missing person or any clues that might point them in the right direction. There are two outcomes: either the missing person is found and evacuation is initiated or, having completed the search of their allocated area, the team reports back to the search manager for re-assignment.

The final search step is a debriefing. The first part of the debriefing process is an operational debriefing. This is usually held in two stages, an immediate debriefing of events and an organised meeting at a later time to go over procedures and determine how things could be made more efficient. A stress debriefing may be held if there is psychological stress caused as a result of the search.