Thursday, November 5, 2009

Wide Area Search

Recently, I was fortunate enough to attend a Wide Area Search class, offered by the Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX). It was packed with information and exercises and I was thoroughly impressed with every aspect of the course. I learned an incredible amount of information and left with an increased level of confidence in my abilities, in an urban environment and beyond.
When I first heard of the Wide Area Search class, I thought that the "wide area" was more a matter of mixed geography (urban, rural and wilderness). While these different environments are considered, the "wide area" is more in terms of skill sets. And the purpose of the Wide Area Search course is to fill the skills gap between wilderness and urban SAR, so as to have a more affective team (management and searchers) following a large-scale event that could have you dealing with an urban environment that may as well be wilderness, because of the level of destruction.

To give you a better idea of where the folks were coming from when developing the course, the whole Wide Area Search concept was in reaction to lessons learned after Katrina.

However, to paraphrase one of the instructors (there were three who tag-teamed throughout each day of the three-day course), the information offered up was not meant to be applied in specific circumstances, but rather as "tools" at your disposal for any relevant search situation. The main focus was towards large-scale events, but many of the things discussed could just as easily be applied to a missing person situation.

The class spanned three eight-hour days and was challenging and well thought out. It was created by the instructors themselves, who are all veteran SAR personnel, with years of experience behind them. They conducted the class better than any I've ever attended, in this field or any other. These particular TEEX instructors have been involved in many SAR efforts over the years, from Katrina and Ike, to the Space Shuttle Columbia recovery, to smaller scale urban and wilderness searches - you name it.
While the class had it's fair share of lectures (though, far from boring), it was also full of table-top exercises, as well as on-your-feet exercises that progressively built upon what we'd learned. We assumed many different roles from exercise to exercise, acting as both search managers and "boots-on-the-ground" searchers throughout the three days.

Wide Area Search provides a lot of valuable information for any and all SAR personnel when dealing with a wide-spread disaster situation, and provides knowledge and techniques that transcend any single search and rescue environment or scenario. Considering the many different forms that a large-scale disaster can take (tornado, earthquake, hurricane, terrorist attack, etc.), this is information that everyone in search and rescue should have.

Honestly, if this is representative of other courses offered by TEEX, I highly recommend taking any of them that become available to you. I'd even encourage you to get with the higher-ups in your own organizations to look into hosting courses from TEEX, just to assure that more of them become available to the greater SAR community.

Bobby Hinson is a member of a local CERT group in Georgia and is always striving to become more deeply involved in SAR. This post was originally published on his own blog at
For further information about TEEX's US&R Search Program, send the inquiries to Jim Yeager, at 888-999-9775 or 979-458-0857 or visit

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