Questions for the SAR folks

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Feb 14, 2018
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Warner, NH
First, let me preface that this is NOT a criticism in any way of NHFG and SAR volunteers. I know there has to be very good reasons for what I'm asking, I just want to learn, understand and be more knowledgeable. đź‘Ť

We have a search (Silver alert) going on in my area, a fellow has been missing since Saturday and it got pretty wet last night, so I'm hoping today is the day they find him safe. What I've noticed the past couple of days, however, is the search doesn't even get underway until about 10 or 11 AM, and it goes until dusk. That's 4 or 5 hours of daylight not being used out of a 12-13 hour window, and I'm not sure I understand why. I understand if it's unrealistic to expect any given person to spend 12 hours in a high intensity activity, but I would think doing shifts would be an answer, but clearly it's not. So I'm just respectfully asking folks who know the answer to educate dumb little me.

FWIW, the State Police helo was out for a number of hours (including a refueling run) searching with FLIR. Grateful we have that capability in the state.

Thanks in advance, and thank you to all the volunteers and professionals who are there to help others.
Actually, I wish I'd think more before I write... Maybe the search was underway earlier, but I was basing it a large number of vehicles heading up the road (include F&G) late in the morning, so perhaps a smaller group was out earlier. Anyway, would like input anyways as to the normal procedures. Thank you.
Not on FB, so not sure how this case resolved, but NHF&G generally likes to give their K-9 scent trackers first crack at finding missing persons before the area gets overwhelmed by multiple scents from human searchers. A lot of the K-9 black labs that I know have incredible success records. :)
I have taken Gryffin (a golden retriever) on bushwhacks and he has exactly retraced our steps out using only his nose. Even if we find a herd path that might a better exit, he still insists on retracing.

I find it comical that he can dig a buried cheez-it out from 6" of snow in winter. The nose, as they say, knows.

D Dasy,

I am not familiar with the case and do not do FB either, but I can speak from many years of experience in SAR in NY State and the Adirondacks. Do you know when officials were first notified? Too often it is late in the day, after friends and family unsuccessfully run haphazardly for hours through the search area, leaving false tracks, unintentional clues and negative leads. Once notification is officially made to NYSDEC Forest Rangers in the case of a typical wildlands type search, it takes some time to gin up official support from other areas in the field, homes, and offices. First, interviews must be taken from family, partners, or witnesses to accumulate data and make informed decisions on how best to proceed, given historical successes on this characteristic type of subject, known experience, and last known place (LKP) or place last seen (PLS). A Type 1 "hasty" search may then progress with vehicles on roads, and possibly a few rangers walking or riding as they are quickly searching the edges of roads, trails or buildings in the area

Unless it is a critical case with known health issues, injuries or a small child, overnight is usually best spent in planning mode, expertly going over maps of the area and considering calling in additional resources, including local highly trained volunteer teams. That is not always the best approach, however. Most often though, before that, if there was enough daylight on the same day, additional rangers will conduct advanced searches of attractant buildings, landscapes, drainages, draws, and waterways, for example. Nowadays even hilltops in this age of cell phones looking for a signal. If it is decided to call in trained resources, overnight time may be spent laying out a grid pattern with markers, string, colored tape or compass azimuths, setting up designated bite sized "search blocks" using natural terrain features. That can take considerable time if overnight, particularly if the exact LKP is fuzzy or if the terrain is complex and rough. It may have to wait until first light of morning. Quite often, if the media has already reported on the incident, professional SAR are met the next morning with an onslaught of family, friends and the general public, untrained in formal search practices. Classic "hurry up and wait" follows as they are sorted out.

As mentioned above, k9 teams may be sent out first, before hundreds of confusing human scents and false dropped clues contaminate the area. A helicopter or drone with FLIR may be next to head out. Finally, after trained volunteer crew bosses are briefed, small manageable size search teams are selected to go with an experienced crew boss or ranger (if enough are available). Each volunteer team member (especially walk-ons) must be checked for proper clothing and gear (sent home if inappropriate), and briefed or given a very quick minute of training on how to conduct a search in their assigned search block. It is a bit more complicated than a random unstructured gaggle walk in the woods calling out the subject's name if you want to succeed. Snacks and water are gathered and then transport is made from the command center to the area of search. Getting into the field after 10:00 AM is not unusual.
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Thanks fellahs. The resolution was he was found safe today after 2 nights in the woods (reported missing Sunday PM), able to walk out on his own. He has Alzheimer's. No idea how far in he was, but the State Police chopper did a pretty thorough search yesterday at least a mile into the woods from the surrounding area roads.

I really appreciate the answers, I knew there was something that had to make sense, but was clearly missing it. Now I know, which is what I wanted out of the post. Appreciate the education!
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You are welcome, Salty. Excellent overall summary by Nessmuk for SAR in the ADK, which is similar to the way NHF&G manages SAR in the Whites.

I should add that I am really happy that this Alzheimer’s guy survived after two nights out, which is not always the case, of course. The loss of a woman with Alzheimer’s about this time of year around a decade ago in Waterville Valley still haunts me, as we made extensive fine-grid-line searches for five days without success. Sadly, her remains were found by a K-9 team about six weeks later.
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