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Search and rescue is a science

12:12 PM, Jan 12, 2010   |    comments
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AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Maine conducts about 450 searches a year and finds the missing person more than 99 percent of the time.

This number is boosted by the facts that many people are only lost for a few hours and are able to get out on their own.

Still, search and rescue is a very detailed operation which has been developed by professionals for over a century.  Lt. Kevin Adam is the Search and Rescue Coordinator in Maine.  He told NEWS CENTER that a search begins with the collection of information. 

An incident management team is form and leaders determine the paramaters of the search and what equipment will be incorporated by using something known as Mattson's Concensus.  This is a detailed list of information that enables experienced searches to make reasonable determinations about where the missing person might be.

"It's actually pretty good," said Adam.  "What you're doing is taking the people on your team that have the most experience, put together all the faces and look at the terrain and we have been on with that a lot of times."  

This concensus enables leaders to use volunteers to spread the tentacles of the search as quickly as possible. They also can use professionals to do the highly skilled jobs in specific locations.

For example, last week in the search for Richard Jackson, 13 snowmobile clubs blanketed the trails over a wide area. They carried GPS units which would be downloaded onto a master map so leaders knew they had areas covered.  This freed up Game Wardens who dragged a nearby lake with side-scan sonar where it was believed Jackson may have vanished.

It's a difficult job,  Leaders also must make grim determinations like when to turn a search into a recover effort and when to call off operations all together.  Col. Joel Wilkinson says that searches take a toll on the service, "On the other end of every one of these searches is a family, is a mother, is a brother, is a father.  We do our best to be professionals and not internalize this because we all have loved ones, but we take this work very seriously."  The Maine Warden Service keeps a chaplin on staff to work with families of victims and game wardens.

The Maine Warden Service reminds people to always tell someone where you are going and when you are expecting to be back.  They are also reminding people to never depend on a cell phone in the back country.  Always have a back up plan in case the phone has no service or the batteries die.

NEWS CENTER

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