Lost and Found in New Mexico

Saturday, June 17, 2006

New Mexico's latest media blitz.....

reminding people of the very real and present danger of fires.
It is quite clever and to the point!

Remember, only YOU can prevent forest fires!


Saturday, December 31, 2005


A quick post to wish all my friends and family a Happy New Year! I've been really busy with real life and haven't had much time to write about it. Hopefully that will soon change and I'll be able to post some of what has been going on.

Here's to the new year of 2006 and much health and happiness to everyone!!!

Monday, October 24, 2005


I know that this hurricane season has been a long, tedious, overwhelming series of storms. And I'm very sorry for the people affected by these storms. They have been somewhat (but not entirely) unpredictable and the damage has been in some cases unprecedented. But there is one thing that I feel must not go unsaid and I'll say it again here:

If you are told to evacuate, do so!!!

Don't have a hurricane party!
Don't say "we've been through one before and it wasn't too bad"!

And especially don't expect government officials at any level, including the military, to rush in at the height of a storm to rescue you. It won't happen and the decision you make to stay in a place that is in a direct line for a hit from a storm could be your last one.

I'm in the Search and Rescue business. For the most part, it is a volunteer organization. SAR, the Red Cross, FEMA, and other groups will come to your aid eventually. If you make the decision to ride it out, be prepared to take care of yourself for several days.

Ask yourself if you would go out on a dangerous mission in a helicopter with winds still raging to rescue someone who could have taken shelter and didn't!

Emergency Service personnel are a different breed of people. They take risks that others wouldn't, but there comes a point when they have to think about themselves and their own families.
Don't put others at risk by choosing to stay when you've been told to go!

Houses can be rebuilt and cars replaced. Lives are irreplaceable and those left behind will forever wonder "why"!

Please don't take a chance, get out while you can!

Saturday, October 22, 2005


Amateur Radio Emergency Services groups are volunteers who play a major role in many disaster situations around the world. When Emergency teams can not talk to each other through the normal frequencies because many agencies are on different frequencies, Hams are able to keep up the chatter. There is much discussion about the problems associated with getting FD, Police and other emergency agencies on the same frequencies. But the solution is right in front of their noses. You take a Ham operator and stage them with the head of the Emergency Operations and you put several operators in the field. The messages are then relayed thru amateur radio frequencies and everyone knows what the other is doing.
Amateur radio frequencies are the same the world over. Through repeaters stretched across the world, ham operators are able to relay messages of health and welfare to countless numbers of people. During the recent hurricanes I've heard numbers of up to 800 + operators volunteering their time to work at American Red Cross shelters and other places, making calls to reassure family members far away that their loved ones are okay!
When telephones don't work, emergency depts. can't communicate with each other, and chaos reins, Amateur Radio Operators step in and fill a big gap in communications. They are the silent groups behind the scenes. Let us not forget the good that these volunteers do.
78's, KD5KTY New Mexico

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Why evacuation orders should be heeded!

This in from MSNBC:
Game wardens and other emergency workers used boats, airboats and helicopters to try to rescue about 600 people who defied evacuation orders and stayed behind only to be trapped by floods in the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun country, in Abbeville, Pecan Island and Lafitte. Several were plucked from the rooftops of their submerged homes.
High winds continued to push high water inland, making rescue attempts by boat or helicopter perilous, Vermilion Parish Sheriff Mike Couvillan said.
“We’re risking lives to save their lives when they had an opportunity to leave,” he said.

I think that says it all!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A Serious Storm!

I can't say it any better than some of the news reports. Click here to see an updated report. Take heed of evacuation orders. Don't play games with your life! Texas officials are ordering people to leave. Do so! If you don't leave, you are on your own! Yes, help will come, but don't expect it immediately. Louisana is also telling people to leave. Do it, now! Don't blame the Feds if you stay and get into trouble. You have been warned!

Stubborn people

Again, people are refusing to evacuate. Click here for link.
First Responders can only do so much. If someone refuses to evacuate in any disaster, they shouldn't expect an inmediate rescue. That's why you are asked to leave in the first place, so you don't become a victim. If you think that a helicopter will come to rescue you if you're in trouble, think again! Rescuers will try, but it really isn't that simple to get a helicopter up in the air. And, it isn't as safe as many people seem to think. Helicopters crash and people die being hoisted. The best bet for everyone in the path of Hurricane Rita is to leave now!!! Take a neighbor with you and take action to save yourself! You can replace things, but not your life!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


The mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, can't make up his mind!
On one hand Mayor Nagin has said the federal presence proves how safe the city is after widespread looting and violence in the first days after Hurricane Katrina. And on his plan to bring back over 100,000 people this week he said "My thought has always been that if we have this many resources in the city working cooperatively, then we could correct just about any situation that was out there."
But noting that FEMA Director, Admiral Allen, had urged residents not to return, the mayor said: "The admiral's a good man. I respect him. But when he starts talking to the citizens of New Orleans, that's kind of out of his lane. There's only one mayor of New Orleans and I'm it."

What about his tearful plea for help from the Federal government when HIS city was flooding? Where are the resources working in HIS city from? And who does he think is making HIS city safe? And now there is another threat to Louisana and Mayor Nagin has called another MANDATORY evacuation. WHAT? It worked well the last time, didn't it?
You can't have your cake and eat it too!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Update from the Gulf Coast

It will indeed be as bad as many of us feared. Long laid plans did not work as intended and many are hurting. And yes, there were mistakes but the time for handing out guilty verdicts is not upon us yet. There is much work to be done and many people to take care of. New Mexico is receiving up to 6000 evacuees and many of our Emergency Service people are in the affected areas. Thankfully we heard from our friend, Peter, a New Orleans firefighter. It was a horrendous couple of days for him and other N.O. firefighters as they were often besieged by gunfire when trying to do their job. He is on his way to Gallup, along with his parents - Doc and Simone, who evacuated to Texas before Katrina hit. All we know now is that he'll be here for a few days of R&R. He sounded tired and very grateful to be getting a break. We are so excited to see all three of them and know they are safe and sound.
Our family will continue to pray and support people in the affected areas as we are able.
God bless you all!

Update: Peter and his family are in Gallup. We saw him at 1:00 am, NM time. He looks beat, but it was wonderful to see him.Tomorrow we'll spend more time, but for now the need for sleep overtakes all other needs.

(This is posted on my other blog too, so you aren't going nuts if you think you've read it before).

Saturday, September 03, 2005

N.M. Team Rolls Into Destruction

Members of New Mexico Task Force 1, an urban search and rescue team, assist a woman from a nursing home in New Orleans on Friday.
Richard Pipes/Journal

This is the link to the story in the Albq. Journal about the New Mexico Task Force 1, an Urban SAR team.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Nightmare along the Gulf Coast

My heart goes out to the people along the Gulf Coast. It is a horrible situation and unfortunately not one that will quickly go away. As a member of the Search and Rescue/EMS community I have a feel for what's going on out there and it's not an easy job. It takes a terrible mental and physical toil on the victims and the rescue teams.
The first precept of emergency services; EMS, Firefighters, Police, SAR: Is the scene safe? Well, obviously with flooding, contaminated water and unknown wild creatures the scene isn't really safe. But Emergency workers can deal with much of that. The problem comes when thugs with guns start causing trouble. As a Field Commander, I would never send teams out with shooting going on. I don't feel like the media is reporting about this fairly. The rescuers there are willing and able to do what they are trained to do to save as many people as possible, but it is not fair to ask them to risk sacrificing their lives to thugs who sit on roof tops and fire at them as they try to help. It's also not fair to the different agencies involved for the media to report that they are not doing enough. This is an event of catastrophic proportions. As prepared as these agencies are, and I know the preparations and have been involved in mass casualty training, no one can be completely prepared for something this big.
As tragic as it is, sometimes Americans require a wake up call. Many of us rely on the government or other organizations to take care of us. It's a nice idea, but in the end, there is really only one person you can rely on and that is yourself. Perhaps not everyone heard the call to evacuate, that's an area to work on. And we know for sure that many decided to ride out the storm, some because of past false alarms. The complacency of these people might have caused their deaths. When word is sent to evacuate or you see or hear weather reports and warnings of such a huge storm or any type of potential disaster, do what you have been told to do. Evacuate; leave town or take shelter, but get out of harms way.
And before the shelter you are using starts becoming inhabitable maybe some of the able bodied sheltered people could also lend a hand and help to keep it as clean as possible. This is a crisis, everyone - victim, rescuer and all Americans have to work together to resolve this terrible event.
Today my prayers are with everyone involved in this tragedy, but most especially with my brothers and sisters in the Emergency Service fields (and a special prayer for the New Mexico DMAT and Urban SAR and my friend, Peter, a young New Orleans firefighter) who are risking their own lives to save the lives of countless others.
God bless you!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Hiker Survives Five Days in Lava Field...

As I was writing about the other day, you can live for many days without food but not very long without water. I found an interesting story on the AP wire and wanted to share it with you. It's about a 41 year old man who had left his car at the end of a road near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. He wanted to check out an active volcano nearby. He was an experienced hiker and that plus gear he was carrying saved his life. After seeing the lava flow he started heading back to his car but got turned around. Lava rocks are unforgiving on your feet and there is little vegetation in old lava flows. This man was incredibly smart and a young boy on a helicopter tour was extremely curious and noticed a bright light coming from the lava. I'll let you read the rest of the story here. This is what I want people to learn, that with a little creative thinking and preparation you can survive what most people would not believe you could.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Search and Rescue mission...

Around noon yesterday I was called by the Area Commander and asked to work a mission out of my district. I agreed and started getting my gear together as well as calling teams out. We were looking for an older man with Alzheimers who had wandered away the day before (the 19th) about 1600 hours. The family had spent the evening looking for him but by daylight realized they needed more help. Because it was out of my district it was about a 3 hour drive to base camp. About 30 minutes before I got to base camp I got a call saying the man had been located and was in good condition. Thank God!
There are some interesting things about subjects with Alzheimers. A big one is that they wander. That is why many care facilities for these types of patients have elaborate locks and alarm systems. The other thing I find fascinating is that for some reason when they wander they go way back in their past and several times subjects have been located in places where they used to live or work. We had a search for an older man who drove 75 miles from a big city to his old homestead, got out of the car, found his old home and the schoolhouse where he had taught and located his wife's grave. But when he tried to get back to his car he got totally turned around and unfortunately, even after days of searching, his body was located several miles in the opposite direction about 3 weeks later by a horse team doing a training in the area.

So, yesterday was a good day and a great miracle. It was very hot in the day, but the nighttime was warm, not cold and that helped him to survive.
We did not use this helicopter in the search yesterday, but it was available to us if we had needed it. This picture is from a previous search where we used the National Guard helicopter to hoist 2 woman and their sweet, little pit bull out of a very remote area.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Besides people we use...

Future SAR dog
dogs, horses, All Terrain Vehicles (ATV's), helicopters, 4x4 vehicles, snowmobiles in the winter, bikes, snowshoes, cross country skis, water craft, lots of radios and at night - many, many flashlights. We use whatever it takes to find a lost person. We always need volunteers so if you are interested, call your local Sheriff or State Police and ask for the closest SAR group in your area.

Refreshing your memory...

Click on picture for a larger view!

Survival kit supplies: Even in the summer, a jacket with a hood, nonperishable food, water, lighter (parents should decide if a child is old enough to carry this), a whistle, ziplock baggie, bright colored flagging tape, black trash bag, foiled covered cardboard for a signal mirror.
Carry this in your pocket or a small fanny pack or backpack.
If you think you are lost, Stay where you are, close to a road or trail if possible.
If you keep walking it takes us longer to find you.
Tell someone where you are going. DO NOT rely on cellphones(or family radios)!
There aren't always signals!
Make sure your children know that it is okay to talk to strangers when they are lost, especially if they are calling their name. Tell them not to hide! If a person is dressed like a search and rescue person (helmet, headlamps, whistles, backpacks, etc), they are looking for you. Find shelter and make a little spot to rest in.
Only leave the shelter for: getting water,
going to the bathroom, if you hear an aircraft or if you hear searchers.
Learn to make a snow angel (even in the summer) so an aircraft can spot you easier.
(Lay on your back and move your arms and legs in and out).
The sound of a whistle is louder than your voice. Use it often esp. if you hear people.
Stay warm and dry. Drink water as often as you can. STAY PUT!!!
We will find you and much more quickly!

The wilderness is fun! It's an exciting area with lots of places to explore.
Just use your brain and think about what you are doing, where you are going
and if other people are with you, keep an eye on them as well.

Prevention is the best medicine...

We had a happy ending with the finding of little Johnny before he was gone very long. But could this whole scenerio have been prevented? Yes! For both children and adults there are several things that you can do to help prevent getting lost in the first place and if you do get lost being found very quickly.
1. Always tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return. Even if you are carrying a cellphone, you might not have a signal so don't rely on it to call for help!
2. Know the area you are going to and check the extended weather forecast, preparing your gear accordingly. Things I never leave home without: (regardless of weather) are a jacket with a hood, lighter or matches, a whistle, several nonperishable food items and WATER.
3. Help your children prepare for a possible unexpected night in the wilderness. No need to scare them, make it fun. Help them prepare a small survival kit and talk to them about what might happen if they were to get lost. As well as the jacket with the hood, a whistle, food items and water (I reserve the use of lighters for older kids and adults) the small survival kit should contain the following: One ziplock freezer bag (used to carry other small items as well as a way to collect water), a large black trash bag (tearing off one corner of the bottom will make a nice poncho or it can be used to sit on when the ground is wet), bright colored flagging tape or strips of bright cloth (use will be explained later) and a piece of cardboard with aluminum foil wrapped around it (shiny side out it makes a good signal mirror). The whistle, cardboard mirror, black trash bag, flagging tape and food products should fit in the ziplock bag which can then be carried in a pocket of your pants or in your jacket. Older children and adults might want to prepare a kit in a fanny pack or small backpack. Regardless, even on a picnic, make sure you and your children carry the survival kit on their person at all times. Water is crucial and everyone should carry as much as they can when out playing or hiking in the wilderness. You can live for days without food, but only for a very short time without water. There are many types of water carrying systems, the easiest is a water bottle that can be clipped on to a belt loop with a carabiner (very cheap, sometimes free giveaways at sports stores and military recruiting stations). You can also tie a piece of nylon webbing or small rope around the bottle and sling it across your chest.
4. Before you set out on your hike, walk or just go find a pee tree, turn around and look back at where you are leaving from. Try to find some kind of landmark that would help guide you back in the right direction.
1. If you feel like you are lost or at least a little confused about the direction you should travel, STOP!!!
Take a good look at your surroundings. If nothing seems familier, procede to step 2.
2. If you are lost please don't keep walking thinking that you will eventually find your way back. Instead, concentrate on finding shelter and stay put. Adults and children have sometimes been found 5-7 miles from where they were last seen. If you keep walking and searchers start looking for you, you have a head start and we have to not only try to catch up with you but find which direction you went as well. If you are out in the wilderness by yourself and have told someone where you were going, we will find you much faster if you don't keep moving. Even if you didn't tell someone where you were going, staying put helps us find you much quicker.
3. When looking for shelter, remember a few things. Trees are probably the safest. Caves are okay but are sometime inhabited by other creatures. If it's lightening, don't pick the tallest tree, try for a shorter one with larger, low hanging branches to protect you from the elements. This is where the bright colored flagging tape comes in handy. Tie a piece or all of it on the outside of where you are taking shelter, about eye level. This will alert a searcher that you might be nearby, even if you are asleep. Also, try to find shelter near a large clearing and if possible a trail (even an animal path). Some searchers will be bushwhacking, but other searchers will be walking the roads and trails. To make a comfortable shelter for yourself, pile leaves, pine needles and branches into a little bed. If you don't need the black trash bag for a poncho, use it to lie on or make a small tent-like cover over you. You can also cover yourself with the debris (leaves, twigs, etc.), anything to keep you warm and dry, which is very important. Search and Rescue operations are increasingly using aircraft in the daylight hours to search for lost people. If you hear an aircraft, go into the clearing, with your cardboard signal mirror and lie down on the ground. Make snow angels (yes, even in the summer). When a spotter in an aircraft is looking down, they will see you more easily if you make yourself big (like the snow angels). Standing up, jumping up and down and waving doesn't do much because from the spotters prespective they are just seeing the top of your head and won't necessarily recognized you as a person. If the sun is shining hold the signal mirror at an angle that will shine a light towards the aircraft. This catches their attention pretty fast if done correctly. At night, a fire, if you are carrying a lighter or matches, will definitely catch the eyes and noses of searchers. Make sure to put it in the clearing so you don't start a forest fire. Use the whistle to call for help every couple of hours. The sound carries much further. And remember 3 blasts of a whistle (shots from a rifle, etc) is the sign for help (SOS). If you hear a whistle or your name being called, make sure to whistle or call back.
4. Conserving food and water. Remember you can last for a long time without food, but a shorter time without water. Eat a little when you are hungry or if you are feeling a little light headed. If will increase your blood sugar level giving you more energy. Drink often, not huge gulps but enough to keep you hydrated. If you are in a rain storm, try to collect rain water in the ziplock bag. If you are near a stream, refill your water bottle or the bag as necessary. One important warning: DO NOT try to get water from a swiftly flowing river or a lake that is not easily accessable, you could be swept away by the swift water or fall down an incline into the lake. Water can be found even in the desert, look in little potholes in rocks or shake dew off of trees in the morning (if they are near your shelter). And don't worry about bugs. If you get sick from drinking yucky water, that can be fixed later after you are found.
5. Be assured that if you have told someone where you were going and you didn't return when you said you would people will be looking for you. The same goes if you are travelling with a group and you are missing. Help your children understand that in this kind of situation it is okay to talk to strangers. Make sure you tell them that they will not be in trouble, with you or the police. Children tend to hide because they are afraid of strangers or think they will be in bad trouble. The most important thing is that we find them and quickly!!!
Being outdoors is a fun adventure! Take a few preventative measures before going out to make your trip safer. And if for some reason you get lost, STAY PUT!!!

Friday, July 01, 2005

Where is Johnny? A Happy Ending!

Teams signing out at base camp - Mock Search in Albuquerque, New Mexico

At 2330 Team 1, the Groundpounders radioed in that they had found 2 Bubble Yum wrappers. It was confirmed with the parents that when they had stopped at a store on the way to the picnic, Johnny had bought a pack of Bubble Yum. The ATV team is called back to base camp and after a brief rest and a fill up on supplies, they head in the direction of the Groundpounders. According to the coordinates that were given to us by Team 1, they are about 1 1/2 miles from base camp. There are many Ponderoso pine trees and big boulders in the area. Because it is so dark, every tree and boulder is throughly searched. The trackers have begun to look for tracks and about midnight they located a fairly fresh set of tracks that could have been made by Johnny. They start to follow them and now have a very good idea of Johnny's direction of travel. Looking at the map and charting a path of his probable direction, there is a small trail that he would eventually meet up with. The ATV's are sent around to the trail, further out than we think Johnny would have gone and are headed back on the trail towards where the trackers are following the trail of footprints. There are whistle blows and much yelling of Johnny's name, listening each time for any sound. About 0100, Team 1 along with the trackers hear some rustling in the trees about 50 yards off the trail. Knowing that children, esp. at night might be frightened and not answer to strangers, the tactics change a little. One woman on the team starts talking loudly, but motherly, saying things like "My name is Mary, I'm with Search and Rescue, your parents called us to help look for you". "If you can hear me, yell help and we will follow your voice". She keeps talking and about 15 minutes later, a little voice yells "Help, I'm over here". The searchers encourage him to keep talking and within a few minutes they spot little Johnny curled up in a ball under a large tree. Mary goes to him and using an extra coat and hat that searchers carry with them, puts them on him and keeps talking to him. He is scared and afraid that he is in trouble but is reassured by the searchers that he is not in trouble, everyone is just glad that he was found. The team radios in to base camp that he has been found and there are many tears of happiness from the family as well as the SAR staff. After a brief assessment, Johnny is found to be in pretty good shape. He's given some water to drink and a granola bar to eat. He has a few scratches and his left ankle is a little swollen. Since all searchers are required to carry basic first aid supplies, a splint is located and his ankle immobilized and wrapped. The ATV's have arrived and the IC decides that the quickest way to get him back to his family is on an ATV. His parents agree and Johnny - with a warm coat, wooly hat, a huge pair of gloves and an extra helmet - is put in front of one of the ATV team member's vehicles, the driver holds on to him and he is driven back to base camp. Although still a little overwhelmed by his experience, the thrill of getting to ride on an ATV is overcoming some of his fear. At about 0230, Johnny arrives in camp on the ATV and is quickly smothered in kisses and hugs. The EMT's do another assessment, clean up his scratches and decide he is in good shape except for a possible sprained ankle. His parents advise us that they will take him to the Emergency Room and the ambulance on standby is canceled. He gets a cup of hot cocoa and a PB and Jelly sandwich. Everyone is asking him what happened. He tells us that he and his friends were playing hide and go seek and while he was hiding he saw a bunny rabbit. It was cute so when it started hopping away he followed it. He soon lost it but then couldn't find his way back to where everyone else was. He thought he knew where the camp was but he actually had turned the opposite way and walked almost 2 miles the wrong direction. At one point there was an arroyo (a ditch) that he had to climb down into and then up the other side. While climbing up the other side the dirt slid and so did he. That's when his ankle started hurting. He walked a little further but it was so dark and he could hear animals howling and it scared him. He saw the big tree and climbed underneath it to hide. He thinks he slept for a little while and that's probably why he didn't hear the whistles or car horns. He was hungry and thirsty but all he had was the Bubble Yum and he'd already put those in his mouth. Because his ankle hurt, he decided not to walk anymore and decided that in the morning when it was light he could find his way back.
The parents are very grateful and constantly thank us for finding their son.
After getting all the information from the parents, Johnny and the searchers, the mission starts to wind down. Other teams are told to stand down and the Area commander is informed of a successful find. Paperwork limiting our liability for injuries and non-transport by ambulance is signed by the parents, teams check out and a time is set to close out the mission. The time to close the mission is based on how long it will take every team to get home. So the team that came the farthest sets the time the actual mission will close. After making sure everyone is back in base camp and we haven't lost someone else, we clean up around the camp and people start to leave.
The IC is the last one to leave, making sure no one and no thing is left behind.
This time the mission ends happily with a successful find of a relatively healthy person. Not every search ends this way or so quickly. There have been searches where the person is found, but is deceased and searches where the person is never found. This is devasting to not only the family but to the SAR personel who put their time and hearts into trying to find a lost person.
The next couple of posts will be about preventing
getting lost in the first place as well as what to do if you do get lost.
I hope you'll return to read the helpful hints I've learned over the years.
Have a fun but safe holiday and keep an eye on everyone with you. It only takes a second for someone to get turned around and start going the wrong way. And if someone does get lost please call for help as soon as possible. The faster we mobilize and start looking the better our chances our of finding the lost person.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Where is Johnny? (continued)

When I last wrote, little 8 year old Johnny was still missing at 2200 hours - going on at least 5-6 hours since the last time anyone remembers seeing him. There are 2 teams in the field looking for him or any signs of which direction he might have gone. One team is an ATV team. They are cutting ahead to the East to see if they can locate any fresh tracks. The tracks in the camp area are impossible to decipher from others tracks but if any are found further away from camp and are about the right size for an 8 year old, we'll know we are going the right direction. The other team, groundpounders, are bushwhacking down to the south. Every 10 minutes they stop, blow their whistles and call Johnny's name. Then they listen for any sound; a whimper, crying, someone calling for help. The IC is at base camp working with the communications team who have just arrived. Because the area has weak to no cell phone signals, the Coms team is linking Ham repeaters in this location to locations all the way to Albuquerque, about 2 hours away. The team is also in constant contact with the teams in the field. They have been advised to check in every 30 minutes unless they locate something. All communications are logged down. Sometimes this is done by hand, but this trailer is equipped with a computer and a program that logs down everything and includes a mapping program so that the areas searched can be marked. There is a public relations person working with the State Police to keep the media and lookie loos away from the area. The PR person will give reports to the media every couple of hours or sooner if there is news. It is now dark, with little moonlight and the teams in the fields are using helmets with headlamps and base camp is set up with electrical lights powered by a generator from the communications trailer. The IC has planned a course of action through the early morning hours. The Area Commander was called and will be trying to get a helicopter or CAP plane at first light. The Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) team in Albuquerque is calling out more teams. They've radioed in that a K-9 team should be arriving around 0300. Other groundpounder teams will be arriving between 0400 and 0700. Several of the operation team members have gone into town to get extra water, food, coffee, etc.
The IC has visited with the family several times, trying to reassure them that everything that can be done is being done. The IC continues to question the family and friends as occasionally new information will surface. One of the children who had been playing with Johnny wears the same brand of shoe and a friend brought the shoes to base camp so that the tread can be seen by the searchers. A picture was sketched of the tread and the field teams have it with them along with the information the parents have given us on Johnny. He has on blue shorts, a red t-shirt, a blue basecall cap, white socks and the tennis shoes. He had a jacket but it was found on the picnic table. It is unknown if he is carrying any food or water. He has no medical conditions and is a normal, young boy with a little fear of the dark but not to easily scared. Base camp has been set up where the family was picnicking in case Johnny should find his way back this direction. Base camps are usually set up at the PLS (Place last seen) unless it is too small or dangerous to remain in the area overnight. There are EMT's at base camp and if Johnny is located and needs medical assistance they will go to him. If he is located and uninjured, he will be brought back to base camp and checked out by the EMT's. An ambulance is on standby about 15 miles from here in the closest town.

Around 2330, Team 1, the groundpounders, radioed that they had found 2 Bubble Yum gum wrappers. The parents were questioned if Johnny had this type of gum and the answer was yes. They had bought some at the store on the way to the picnic. The location of the gum wrappers is given in UTM coordinates from a GPS that the team is carrying. This marks the exact location of the wrappers and if the search goes on a long time and new teams come in they can go right to that location using the coordinates. Because of this information, we feel we have a pretty good sense of the direction he is travelling. Everyone is excited and much more hopeful than a couple of hours ago. To be continued...

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Where is Johnny?

Pyramid Peak ( In Red Rock State Park) - Gallup, New Mexico

Scenario: You and your extended family are enjoying a picnic in the forest on the 4th of July. Everyone is relaxed, there's plenty of food and drinks and the kids are having a blast running through the trees. There is a great sense of freedom at being outdoors on a beautiful summer day. The forest is a familiar one, close to town and most of you have been here several times. The altitude starts at about 7000' and rises to 10,000' in some places. There are a few small ponds and a couple of little streams but no huge rushing river. There are ridges rising all around you and canyons off in the distance. Altogether a spectacular view!
Around 1800 hours the sun is starting to fade so everyone starts packing up and rounding up kids. By 1830, someone notices that little Johnny isn't anywhere to be found. You check the cars, the bathrooms and talk to the other kids about where they last saw him. You call his name and honk your car horns with no luck. It's slowly getting darker and a little colder as the sun goes down. Johnny's mother is starting to panic, everyone is milling around looking for him and no one knows what to do next. A couple of men decide to drive down the roads that wind around the area. Still no luck! Finally, someone decides they need to call for help. You find a cell phone signal and call 911. They hook you up to State Police and soon an Officer arrives. He takes down your information and information on Johnny. How old is he, what's he wearing, did he have a jacket, hat, water? It's now almost 2000 hours. The officer tells you that he will be calling out Search and Rescue. Some of the adults take the other children home and the waiting begins.
About 2130, the Incident Commander arrives with a Hasty team of searchers. Some are on foot, others have ATV's that can go down the smaller trails. The IC talks to the family, gets more information and the search begins. Using natural boundaries that would be difficult to walk over or get through, we call this containment, the searchers are sent in 2 different directions. Although Mantrackers are there, the number of children who had been playing makes it difficult to rule out Johnny's footprints from the others, making it almost impossible to get a direction of travel. One of the searchers ask for a scent item from Johnny (a pair of socks, a blanket, a hat, etc.) which is carefully bagged without touching it to preserve the scent if dog teams are called in. Although it is summer it's getting colder and people start to don jackets. One of the volunteers builds a fire and the family fearfully settles in for what hopefully is a short night of searching for 8 year old Johnny...to be continued!

So what is Search and Rescue?

Search and Rescue groups exists all over the world. Each group is unique in the skills and capabilites they have to look for and rescue lost or hurt people. There are Urban SAR groups who train, many with dogs and high tech electronic equipment, to go into collapsed buildings after natural disasters and more recently terrorist attacks. Wilderness SAR groups are trained to do a variety of jobs and different types of teams are called dependent on the circumstances. Each state in the US has a different way Search and Rescue missions are handled. Most states still use the County Sheriff's departments to draw the boundry lines over who will handle the initial investigation and then the search. This is a good system but occasionally causes territorial issues when the search extends over several counties or teams from different counties need to be called out.
In New Mexico we use the ICS system under the NM State Police. When a person is reported missing to the SP, a SP mission initiator interviews the reporting party and decides if it is a legitimate search. There are districts established around NM with an Incident Commander (also called Field Coordinator)in each district taking call for a week, 24/7 (usually there are several IC's in each district) and that person is called by the SP. There is also an Area Commander who takes call for a week for the entire state, keeping track of ongoing missions and teams being used. Being under the State Police eliminates the territorial issues and allows us more freedom to call out the kinds of teams we need. With everyone trained in the Incident Command System it allows for quicker response and provides many well trained people for a mission.
Many people wonder if you have to be strong, able to hike long distances or know how to rappel etc. to be able to join a SAR team. The answer is NO! Teams are formed with the intention of doing special skills. There are Mountain Rescue teams, Dog teams, Horse teams, Groundpounders, All Terrain Vehicle teams, Communications-this is a biggie and many other types! We frequently use Amateur Radio Operators to provide communications in areas where cell phones and even police radios don't work. Amateur Radio Relay Leagues and Amateur Radio Emergency Service teams provide valuble assistance, some come out to the actual search site with elaborate Communication trailers while others sit in their homes hundreds of miles away relaying messages and helping to locate addtional resources. Because of the vast, sometimes inaccessable terrain we frequently use aircraft. The Civil Air Patrol can provide communication links as well as using spotters to look for lost subjects. The State Police and the National Guard both have helicopters that can be used to look for subjects, land and pick them up if found or if necessary hoist a missing person out of a remote area. So anyone who is willing to volunteer their time can help in some way. Oh, did I forget the volunteer part. Yes, SAR is a volunteer, nonprofit organization. You can get reimbursed for gas for your vehicle and sometimes the American Red Cross or other volunteers will come out and feed us, but everyone who belongs to a SAR team wants to help people and they aren't expecting to get paid for it. If you are interested in joining a SAR team, check with your Sheriff's Dept., State Police or look on the internet. Many teams now have websites. We'd love to have your help!!!