Today’s guest blog comes from Phil Bridges, Senior GI Developer here at Ordnance Survey and Alison Chestnutt, Hampshire Search and Rescue Membership Secretary.
There are Lowland Search and Rescue teams in over 30 counties, however you’ll rarely see them mentioned in the media. The reasons you have probably never heard of them are varied; sometimes because of the sensitive and personal reasons that may dictate why a person has been reported missing; sometimes because media attention may hamper searches where vital clues need to be preserved and sometimes because the people that form the teams are the sort of people who are happy to give up their spare time for free to put something back into society and don’t seek recognition for their efforts.
Each team has been established by local people working to a set of tightly defined protocols defined by the Association of Lowland Search and Rescue (ALSAR) whose mandate is identical to their better known cousins in Mountain Rescue. ALSAR units provide physical search and search management services (on land and inland waterways) and work directly for their local police force. In most cases, units are called out by the force POLSAs (Police Search Advisors) but this can vary between counties.
Units are mostly called to respond to search for High Risk Missing Persons, defined as those at the gravest risk of injury or loss of life either through their own actions, their environment or because of illness/injury.
Members of lowland search teams come from all walks of life; sales people, motorway construction workers, accountants, company bosses, housewives and, increasingly, a number of retired people who often have a little more time on their hands.
A team’s “patch” could be ANYWHERE in their county, and sometimes adjoining county borders when resources are tight. Often it’s a call from the police at 2 a.m. on a cold wet night which results in members driving 30 miles across the country (at their own expense) to search for a vulnerable person who has been reported missing.
An ALSAR unit’s primary responsibility is to save life and consequently they are commonly activated and tasked during the first few vital hours of a high risk missing person report, known as the emergency phase. Using the skills acquired through constant training and by employing proven rapid search techniques, units can give the missing person the best chance of survival.
Many ALSAR units also offer civil contingency assistance to the statutory authorities e.g. in emergencies arising from extreme weather conditions such as heavy snow fall or flooding. They can also provide medical cover at large public events and much more.
Units are all autonomous organisations, many are registered charities, but all belong to ALSAR and as such are recognised as a valid Lowland SAR resource in the UK. They all meet the rigorous standards and codes of practice that ALSAR mandate.
How do teams search?
Search planning is very much a science depending on the type of person reported missing. The techniques used to search for a teenager suffering from depression would be very different to the techniques used for an elderly person suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Importantly, teams are trained to common nationally agreed standards which are maintained, documented and regularly reviewed by ALSAR. Accordingly a team member from, say, Hampshire Search and Rescue could work on a search managed by Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Search and Rescue using the same techniques and equipment.
Q & A
How do I find a team in my local area?
ALSAR has a number of units all around the country and this number is growing all the time. If there is not a SAR unit covering your part of the country then perhaps you might like to think about starting one!
For a list of existing units please look on ALSAR’s member units page: http://www.lowlandrescue.org/member-units
What qualifications do I need to join a unit?
None. All units provide full training programmes to enable you to become an operational member. However, if you have specialist skills such as medical, navigation etc. then these will usually be welcomed by a prospective unit providing you have verifiable proof (certificates etc.)
How much time do I need to give up for SAR?
This differs from unit to unit but a good rule of thumb is that training sessions are held once a week. None of our units ask for 100% attendance (we understand you have a life to lead) but units will usually have a set level of attendance throughout the year (for example some units require 60% attendance at training and most will have a requirement to take part in fundraising). This excludes callouts themselves where units may have other attendance targets.
What equipment am I expected to provide?
This differs from unit to unit. Each ALSAR unit has a health and safety responsibility to provide you with safety equipment, clothing etc. However, you will be expected to provide the bulk of your own personal equipment (after all, a mechanic chooses his own tools!). Much of this equipment will be from outdoor clothing shops and generally will consist of walking boots, compass, small rucksack and a good quality torch. This is a very basic list and all units will have a more comprehensive list available.
How can you help?
Local teams are keen to speak to potential volunteers from all walks of life and it’s not just about searching; qualified help with training is often appreciated, notably on topics such as First Aid and navigation. Teams also have behind-the-scenes maintenance programmes so just because you have a ‘dodgy knee’ won’t exclude you from spending a few hours each week keeping the kit (e.g. the two-way radios and the control vehicle) in a constant state of readiness.
And then there’s fund raising of course. A few hours of your time on a weekend morning or afternoon collecting outside a supermarket, combined with the efforts of other volunteers, can often result in up to 10% of the team’s running costs being raised in a single weekend.