Thursday, May 3, 2007
Marshall participates in SAR exercise in Benton County
By SUE WATSON
All volunteer Search and Rescue (SAR) teams from five counties participated in mock wilderness search and rescue Saturday, April 21, according to Joe Lowry, training coordinator with DeSoto County SAR.
DeSoto County facilitated and Benton County hosted the drill.
Fifty-seven team members met on Perry Chapel Road north of Ashland for the drill with Benton, DeSoto, Marshall, Tippah and Pontotoc counties. There were two dog teams, 24 ground searchers, a three-man Air Evac unit, 22 command post members and two ‘victims.’
Lowry said the teams have extensive training and the drills help Search and Rescue members to improve their skills and see how well they coordinate efforts.
“The whole purpose is to apply a method to find a victim,” he said.
The wilderness search teams are supported by sheriff’s departments and most real searches are related to crime or a lost or missing person, he said.
A 35-year veteran with numerous years in Emergency Management Services and 17 years as a firefighter, Lowry and DeSoto County SAR are involved in training all over the state and have already worked extensively to train many, if not most, of the team members involved in Saturday’s exercise.
The training coordinator has responsibility for the integrity of all course material taught “to make sure it stays pure,” he said.
What was learned from the drill will be used in another wilderness training in August in Panola County, he said.
Most of the SAR units in the various counties, with the exception of DeSoto’s, are small, Lowry said.
“Marshall County’s team is not a big unit but there are quality people over there,” he added.
Some of the specific areas of training available to SAR volunteers include evidence recovery, land and water cadaver or human remains recovery, basic SAR, lost person behavior, rope, rigging and rescue, compass and map and basic land navigation, interviewing of witnesses, working with dogs, working with the media, wilderness survival, thrown out weapons searches, and search technologies.
Cadaver dogs, which are either trained for land or water recovery, use their keen sense of smell to detect gases released from cadavers during tissue decomposition. Dogs that work water cadaver recovery assist dive teams.
With respect to searches for a lost person or someone with Alzheimer’s disease who has wandered off, age and life experiences contribute to predictive age-specific coping skills the victim will likely use when lost, he said.
SAR teams also learn how to use various means of communication with each other including GPS location devices. Drill searches maximize the numbers of skills that are tested, he said.
Volunteers in search and rescue teams have varied backgrounds and many are career people in the ambulance, fire and law enforcement services.
DeSoto County Search and Rescue is a fairly large unit and has been in operation since about 1989.
“We have some people with fifteen years or more experience,” said Lowry. “Lots of us have trained together a long time and have taught classes all over the state.”
Lowry now works as a consultant in emergency planning and environmental consulting with different organizations, including hospitals.
“The search and rescue is my play,” he said.
Strike teams organized for this drill were composed of two dog teams, an air-scenting and mantrailing team dispatched first at 11 a.m. to avoid contaminating the scent trail, according to Randy Hobson, incident commander of the Benton County mock search. The “victims” were expected to be found alive since they had been missing only two hours.
AIR EVAC of Corinth followed with an air sweep and the wilderness searchers were sent out last using tracking skills, clue identification, GPS coordinates and map skills. The search covered approximately 600 acres with one ‘victim’ located at 1:30 p.m. in a deep ravine about a mile and a half from the point last seen, Hobson said.
One ‘victim’ was injured and after his medical condition was assessed, teams devised a plan for removing him from the area.
Rope tying skills were used to attach a Stokes basket to a Gator to bring the ‘victim’ out of the ravine and he was transported by Gator to the command post to be ‘airlifted’ to the hospital.
All counties pooled their equipment (command center trailer and tent, Gator, Mule, ATVs, GPSs) to make the drill possible.
Participating from Marshall County were Mark Kaply, logistics; Judy Otto and K-9 Clark Kent dog team; Julie Robbins, communications; and Travis Carter, wilderness searcher.
From Benton County were Randy Hobson, incident commander; Barney King, wilderness searcher; Janice Elliott, communications; Nickey Elliott, planning; Jimmy Graves, David Rameriz, Vickie Gray, and Kathy Graves, wilderness searchers; Lisa Hiatt-Todd, dog team; Elisha Elliott and Chris Autry, wilderness searchers, and Cathy Hobson, staging.
Fairley Humble is president of Marshall County Search and Rescue. Mark Kaply, second in command, helped coordinate on behalf of Marshall County in this exercise.
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