Hampshire Search and Rescue (HANTSAR) is one of many county-based lowland units across the UK dedicated to search and rescue; an activity defined as ‘searching for and aiding people in distress: relieving pain and suffering in all its many forms’. HANTSAR provides round-the- clock assistance to the police and other agencies and in 2011, responded to 66 callouts. HANTSAR provided 2 499 hours of voluntary ‘searcher hours’ to Hampshire Constabulary, and assisted teams in neighbouring counties on 14 occasions.
Through the Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA), HANTSAR gains affordable and easy access to the accurate and up-to-date mapping data it needs to do its job effectively.
PC Mike Spencer, Police Search Advisor of Hampshire Constabulary, is responsible for assessing each missing person case as soon as the police are notified. He has to take into account the vulnerability of the missing person, bearing in mind factors such as age and mental illness. He decides what areas need to be searched and if additional resources are required, he calls on HANTSAR and a meeting point is agreed.
Recipient of the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in 2011, HANTSAR relies totally on ordinary citizens. As skilled volunteers they are trained in search techniques, emergency procedures and first aid. They may be involved in searching car parks and recreation grounds in urban locations, or open land and wooded areas in the countryside. Wherever a search is conducted, the key is to act as quickly and efficiently as possible.
HANTSAR’s incident control vehicle is a van that has been converted to a mobile office. It is equipped with a laptop, printer and access to real-time Ordnance Survey data. This gives the search team vital, on-the-spot information. ‘We produce the maps within the van in order to give the team leaders an area to search, to define what their boundaries are,’ explains Tony Privett of HANTSAR, ‘Otherwise there are no limits; they could go out and be searching areas we don’t need searched.’
Team members also have real-time mapping on their handheld devices. This is linked to a GPS system and as the teams search in different locations, the police can download accurate details of exactly which areas have been covered. ‘Ordnance Survey maps are the best that we can find, that give us as much detail as we need to send our teams out safely’ comments Tony.
HANTSAR gains access to Ordnance Survey data through the PSMA, which provides a broad range of Ordnance Survey products to bodies such as police forces. Under broad and easy-to-administer licence terms, these bodies can share and coordinate data with organisations that help them to deliver their core services.
- On-site printing ensures that the search can be planned properly and initiated quickly.
- The search is more effective because team members can see in real-time exactly where they are and what the geography around them is like. Conventional paper mapping generated on-site is further complemented by the use of GPS-enabled hand held devices, that contain up-to-date mapping.
- Through provision of an accurate record of all the searched areas, the police can ensure that the search effort is both coordinated and thorough.
- The PSMA enables HANTSAR to gain affordable access to the mapping products that best support its remit.