First Practice Sweep

We are not cleaning the floor, we are looking for you.

Today I finally got to put some boots on the ground.  I had been dying to get outside all weekend.  The weather was perfect and it was sure hard to spend most of the morning in the classroom.  Especially after it being the first signs of spring following the giant east coast snow storm.

Properly searching for a person involves tons of planning and specific strategies.  You can’t just have family, friends, and well-intentioned volunteers running willy nilly around the woods trying to find someone.  Your search could end up looking for the search team itself!  Field Team Members are individuals trained to search effectively and safely.

When you think of a group of people searching for someone, what do you visualize?  Do you imagine a group of people in a line shoulder to shoulder walking through the woods?  I learned this is one of the last type of searches done.  Now why is that, you ask?  If you have a ton of people don’t you want to get them all out there as soon as possible?  Have you forgotten something?  One very important fact?

All people leave behind clues when they travel.  These clues may be a hat, footprints, a coffee cup, trash, or even cigarettes.   A large group searching the woods obliterates footprints and potentially destroys all clues.  When you have no idea which direction a person might have gone from the last point they were seen, a single set of footprints may be all the search team needs to send them in the right direction.

Ok, that being said, what makes an efficient search team then? Our team consisted of only four people.  Three of us were “newbies” taking our Field Team Member Class.  We were lead by an FTL or Field Team Leader student. I learned that sending several smaller groups is much more effective than a slow moving large group.  If you search a small enough area with your 4 person team, you can go back out again and search another area.  Many times, different teams are even asked to search the same area, but coming in from a different direction.  Things really look different when approached from a different direction.

Our job was to look up, down, side to side, and behind us as we walked a certain distance from one another.  This “person spacing” is known as critical spacing.  It is the maximum distance that one searcher can be from another and still be able to see and identify a clue in the space between them.  Our FTL suggested a good spacing is when you can see the shoelaces of the person next to you.  It ended up being a very useful suggestion I easily employed and remembered.

My lovely afternoon was spent weaving back and forth among the woods in Southern Virginia.  I don’t believe there could have been a better use of my boots.

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