For the past month or so most SAR people in Canada have probably taken note of a missing Canadian man in the mount Kosciuszko region of Australia, Prabhdeep Srawn. He went for a hike in the area on May 13 and has not been heard from since.
His family have been very vocal about continuing the search effort, but like a lot of cases here in British Columbia, after about 10 days of searching with no evidence, most organized professional SAR groups tend to scale back the effort in order to reduce risk for the possibility of decreasing returns.
As I’ve written before, and based on my own experiences being part of several searches of this magnitude, calling off the search is one of the hardest things a SAR group has to do, and in most cases it is not taken lightly.
The other factor, which this blog exists to talk about, is that searching is not easy despite what many people may think. It’s simple for someone to believe that putting a group of people into the bush to look for someone is just the same as those people going for a hike anyway. This is not the case.
The lost person is not on a trail, and neither are they in a clearing or in a clearly visible location; if they were then they would have been found. This was the case for the search for David Koch on Grouse Mountain in 2005 when he went missing on a very short , 2.9km long trail. Comments on blogs at the time seemed to insist that it was just a matter of getting out there and looking harder.
The lost person clearly came to some grief which either injured, or killed them. In either case, they are considered unresponsive, which means we will not be seeing them waving, building fires, setting off flares or anything else. They are silent, and almost impossible to locate.
In fact, searchers spend 99% of the time off trail, approaching hazards which are likely to have caused the subject’s injury or death. In BC these include steep terrain covered in ice, snow or loose rock, cliffs, gorges, raging streams, lakes and even wild animals. The searchers are exposed to a lot more hazard than a hiker or mountaineer because they are deliberately looking in areas the average person would avoid.
I am going to save some effort and write about how members of the public showing up on a search changes things at some future date. For now I want to concentrate on the issue of the reward.
The family of Prabhdeep Srawn have posted a $100,000 reward for his discovery, alive or dead.
I can only shudder to think of the kind of havoc this is creating for the SAR groups who have to respond to the area he was reported lost in.
Most SAR people I have met are highly trained people, selected from a pool of applicants. Do you know one of the things we select them for? The ability to work as part of a team of other, highly trained people. It is only by working as part of team that SAR people maintain standard procedures and training that keeps them, and their fellow rescuers, safe.
You know the other secret about being a SAR person? Most of the first aid and rescue training we do is for ourselves. Sure we do first aid and practice rescue, packaging and transport, but a large portion of our training is designed to keep our own team members safe. The motto, which any SAR person will tell you, is Self, Team, Bystanders, Subject. That’s the priority.
So how is a bunch of hikers motivated by a reward going to perform?
Wrap your mind around this.
In one case, a group of Canadian soldiers who have no knowledge of the terrain, flora or fauna are flying to Australia to help. In the other case, locals from all over the region are converging on what is clearly a hazardous area. There is no central coordination, there is no communications network. There’s no air support. There’s no way to tell what level of skill they have. These are amateurs, some well meaning and others motivated by money.
It’s a worst case scenario of untrained people attempting to do what the experts have deemed to be too difficult.
Regardless of whether this group of people actually find anything, it’s absolutely the wrong thing to do.
Posting the reward has only done one thing; it has ensured that other families like those of Prabhdeep Srawn are facing the possibility of a lost or deceased loved one.