Search Skills

When out in the bush it is important that you remain focused on the task of trying to find the missing person. Effective searching requires you to fully utilise your skills as a bushwalker and actively seek information from your surroundings. The key skills you need are:

  • Observation. Be on the lookout for the missing person. Also, be alert for clues that may indicate the passage of the missing person such as tracks, discarded items and sleeping sites.
  • Navigation. Be able to find and search your group’s designated area and know your location at all times. You will be required to report your location if you find something.
  • Calling. Try to attract the attention of the lost person. Calling also notifies other searchers of your presence.
  • Listening. Stop and listen for calls from the lost person, or other search groups.
  • Marking. Key points along the boundary of your search area should be marked with toilet paper to indicate to other search groups that you have passed through the area. If you find anything of interest to the search surround the area with toilet paper to mark its location.
  • Recording. Be able to fully and accurately report on areas that you have searched. At significant locations, write down your grid reference and the time you were there. Ensure you have your g~d reference on paper before communicating via radio. You may be required to transmit your locat ion several times.
  • Coverage. Ensure that you have fully covered the area your group has been allocated in the manner requested by the FO. Ensure that you cover the area between you and the next searcher. Some intensive search techniques require you to be extremely thorough in covering this area so keep the spacing appropriate to the density of vegetation.

Regular calling followed by a period of listening is the routine of a search group. The group must stop regularly to listen for calls. Use the lost person’s name when calling, or alternatively use a number system within the group. For example, if you are in group five, each member in your group can call out five-one, five-two, five-three and five-four respectively. This system attracts the attention of the missing person and at the same time lets each group member monitor the position of other group members. Nearby searchers can also tell that the calls they hear are from other searchers and not the missing person. The effectiveness of calling is reduced when there is wind, running water, large numbers of birds or helicopters nearby.

It need hardly be said that searchers should always be alert for signs of the lost person, but it is hard to remain vigilant for extended periods of time. Nevertheless it is very important to do so. Be observant of clues that indicate the presence or passage of the lost person. On the ground look for clues such as footprints in mud and creek beds, trodden grass, ski tracks and discarded items like food wrappers and matches. Above ground be aware of broken branches, scrape marks on logs and torn clothing. Be particularly observant at key locations where someone walking in the area is forced to follow a particular passage. This includes the centre of a steep gully, a gap in thick scrub or the crossing point over a large log or stream.

Search group checking and notifying its position

Try to put yourself in the position of the lost person. What track would you take through this bit of bush? Would you crash through that thick part or would you pass through that obvious gap? Or perhaps you would seek shelter under an overhanging rock.

Look closely for small things near to you, but do not neglect to also look around on both sides and also back the way you have come. Many things are hidden to a particular line of sight but can be plainly seen from another angle.

Search groups are highly visible with BSAR pack covers

Footprints can be very valuable clues, but it can often be very frus¬trating trying to determine whether or not they were made by the missing person. Prints are usually indistinct or incomplete. Tread details are often unknown. This is not to denigrate the value of footprints, merely to point out some of the problems.

There are lots of natural and unnatural materials in the bush that can confuse and mislead a search. Animals can also create unwanted clues. If unsure, look for other clues nearby to support or disprove your suspicions. Good judgement is vital.

If you do find a significant clue report it to search base. The Police may want to bring dogs in to attempt to track the person from that point.

Its location should be marked, both around the site with a line of toilet paper markers, and on the map. Avoid damage to the clue and minimise handling of items such as clothing. An isolated sighting may not seem too significant in itself, but may fit into a pattern when added to reports from other groups. Good observation and reporting of clues has been very important in focusing a search in the correct area and the eventual finding of the lost person.
2003 Edition