Search and Rescue dogs (and their handlers) are incredible assets to locating missing individuals. However, a poorly executed search effort is a distinct possibility as the “Professional” rescue teams are compromised by the well-intentioned, but amateur handlers that are, with concerning frequency, self-dispatching to incident venues and interfering with evidence and overall efficiency of time-sensitive operations. I interviewed Jennifer Fritton, Search and Rescue Dog handler, to learn more about the training and protocols for deployment of a search and rescue dog. While one would assume that rescue dogs are deemed such through a standardized training and competency assessment, that’s only a partially accurate statement. Efforts to move toward standardized baseline credentials are underway, but there remains variation between how dogs are trained and how dogs are deemed qualified to participate in various search and rescue scenes. IMMEDIATE ACTIONS TO TAKE IF A CHILD WANDERS AWAY: Jennifer clarified that school staff should mobilize and go to “probable” and “high-risk” areas with their cell phones per the direction of a principal or designee. This can be done prior to the arrival of law enforcement. Although such a step makes sense, it might not be considered by the school administrator who is preparing to interface with policy and emergency responders, sharing a description of the child, perhaps sharing main points from the child’s IEP (for example, is the child non-verbal?), and trying to identify a staging area. These are crucial steps. However, Jennifer noted that awareness of certain rescue profiles have proven effective in searches. For example, she shared that children with autism might gravitate to bodies of water, railroad tracks and tall objects, such as towers. She added that children with autism have been located within large machinery and buildings. On the other hand, a person with dementia tends to be linear and will try to overcome a barrier, such as a fence, rather than navigating around it. Still, someone expressing harm to self is likely to stay within 1000 feet of a known road or trail. The biggest take-aways from my interview with Ms. Fritton where as follows: 1) SAR professionals must work under the direction of law enforcement. Self-dispatch is a problem and must be mitigated as best as possible. 2) Don’t wait for the law enforcement to arrive to dispatch personnel to “high probability” locations. The people you dispatch aren’t technically searchers, but are more likely to serve in the role of interceptors or to simply observe a sign of the missing subject, such as a mitten. 3) Make staff aware of what to anticipate in the event that a SAR occurs at the school premises. Also, educate staff on their roles and also the need to avoid rallying a rescue crowd to help with a by-foot search. If necessary, the police will coordinate such efforts. 4) If you are interested in learning more about being a member of a SAR team, perhaps in the role of a support to the team or as a handler, it is best to inquire with local law enforcement in order to be directed to the “professional” teams that are contacted by police relative to persons or teams that maintain engaging websites and abide by less formal protocols. This interview can be accessed via the following media sites: YouTube: The 405 Media (9PM Pacific M-R): Subscribe to the SoundCloud RSS feed for this podcast: Follow me (The Safety Doc) on Twitter @SafetyPhD Follow my safety blog:

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