Editor’s note: Christopher Gooding is a member of the Springhill Ground Search and Rescue and Project Lifesaver Association of Nova Scotia.
The situation seemed dire.
A 75-year-old gentleman with a medical history that included early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and a history of heart attacks was missing. The only clues searchers had were a description of his clothing, a general area of where he was last seen and radio frequency to his personal locator unit – a device administered by the provincial arm of Project Lifesaver.
Cumberland County’s ground search and rescue teams from Springhill and Pugwash arrived on the scene, set up their command posts and prepared for all outcomes as two Project Lifesaver teams picked the missing person’s signal.
Approximately twenty minutes later the overhead team back at the command posts received a report from in the field: the personal locator had been found, but the senior was still missing. Somehow, he had cut the strap holding the locator to his wrist.
It was now a full-fledged search for the missing person but, luckily, it was just an exercise.
Springhill and Pugwash’s ground search and rescue teams strengthened their working bond Oct. 22 with the mock-exercise. Arriving in River Philip early morning, the two used a combination of technology and clue-awareness to locate pre-determined clues and work towards finding an imaginary missing person.
Dwight Guthro, Springhill Ground Search and Rescue training officer, organized the drill and says at the heart of the exercise is to give searchers an opportunity to hone their skills and build confidence when the stakes are at their lowest.
“My first objective is to not put them in something that is going to demoralize them,” Guthro said. “This is a learning program and what we’re looking for is for them to find clues that I put out. Once they find the clues, maybe the clues can give them a direction the person might have travelled in so they can refocus the search and say ‘Alright, it appears he’s headed this way. Let’s send another team in that direction.’”
As the search unfolded, Guthro also prepared some outcomes and incidents to simulate real life and give searchers a chance to use as many techniques and equipment available to them during the day.
“The goal was to go look for clues and to see if they could find some clothing that was placed in the woods. They did find that, however, after they did that one of the team members simulated an injured ankle and we had to bring our mobile stretcher in to wheel them out of the woods. It worked really well.”
The value of the training exercise goes beyond the boots-on-the-ground experience for searchers, too. Observations recorded about the terrain and surrounding woods give search teams a future advantage should they ever be called to the area for a real search.
The exercise came after a busy couple of weeks for searchers, who have assisted search teams elsewhere in the province. It was not, however, the first time the two teams have worked and trained together. Over the summer the two worked together to locate two missing men in Shulie.
There are 24 ground search teams in Nova Scotia, with over 1,300 volunteers.
For more information about search and rescue in the province, visit http://sarvac.ca/nova-scotia-ground-sar.