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Are you ready to handle an emergency?

The Canadian Search and Rescue (SAR) community gathers every year at Sarscene, the country's leading event for SAR training, presentations and exhibitions.  This year, from October 4 to 7, SAR workers and organizers from across the country, and guests from around the world, met in Gatineau,
Quebec.

Among the presentations was one that asked, "Is your team ready to handle an emergency?  More importantly, are they trained and equipped to handle an emergency safely?"


November 9, 2006
By Jennifer Brown

Those are questions presenter Randy
Servis asked himself almost every day for more than 20 years, working
in search and rescue. Today he is president of the National Association
on Search and Rescue in the United States but he began as a volunteer
in college and eventually became SAR coordinator for the Coconino
County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona.

On average, the 100-person
rescue squad, which includes many specialized volunteers, is called on
more than twice a week.  On horseback, ATV, four-wheel drive vehicles,
boats and snowmobiles; rapelling down mountains or climbing up cliffs,
the SAR squad deliberately goes into harm’s way, but their supervisors
have some tools and training to manage them safely.  

For
Coconino County SAR leaders, intent on keeping their own people safe,
risk assessment is more than some reviewing some scribbled notes from a
human resources lecture. It begins with training. With limited time for
drills and many high-risk activities among his responsibilities, Randy
Servis needed a way to focus on the most important lessons. He found it
in a presentation by a watch commander with the California Highway
Patrol.  “Cops are really the worst at risk management,” Servis said,
“and as a commander he was trying to talk about risk management for the
squad level. He developed a four-part matrix that really hit home with
me and it applies very much in law enforcement and search and rescue.”

High risk                                     Low risk
High frequency                         Low frequency     

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High risk                                    Low risk
High frequency                        Low frequency
 

Training should concentrate on activities in the upper left quadrant
because squads get little experience in them during the course of their
duties. “They will be the ones that get us every time,” he said.  All
the other activities are either performed often enough to be familiar
to rescue teams, or sufficiently low risk to require less training. “It
gives you some confidence that you have thought through your actions,”
Servis explained.

For field work, he issued laminated cards to
his search leaders for immediate risk assessment. Developed and refined
from an Outward Bound presentation, the accident equation tool forces
the leader into a realistic appraisal of the threats his people face. 
Under categories like ”˜leadership’, ”˜environment’ and ”˜team cohesion’
the matrix is a checklist that allows people under pressure to
recognize the consequences of their decisions.

“The accident
equation classifies human and environmental dangers,” Servis said. The
highest potential for an accident is at the intersection of human and
environmental danger. “Hopefully this will force leaders to make some
management decisions about risk.  Most of them will be on the human
side because you can’t control the environment.”

 


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