Across the United States on any given day there are as many as 100,000 active missing person cases, resulting in thousands of “lost person” searches each year. The frequency of “lost person” searches conducted by First Responders (Law Enforcement, Fire/Rescue, Search and Rescue) is increasing but changing from primarily lost children (including those with autism) to people who are despondent, aged adults with various forms of dementia, and people out for day hikes, among many other types.
The types of actions taken in the first minutes and hours of a search can make the difference as to whether these actions result in successfully finding the person alive and well or not. While a lot of training has been developed and conducted for First Responders, what is needed is additional research on the various categories of “lost people,” (such as hikers, people with dementia, children, hunters, among others), identifying the key attributes derived from past experiences which can lead to them being “found” quicker, and the development of easy to follow instructions which can be used by the “first on scene” resources to get started.
Typically, the urban search involves either a lost child, or an elderly person suffering from some form of dementia. It is often similar for the rural and wilderness search. Much of the critical information must be gathered from the family and friends through the interview and investigative process. This all takes time while the lost person may be traveling farther away from the initial area. Time is the critical element in this process and an organized course of action for identifying the critical information and then obtaining it is necessary.
Search and Rescue theory and the suggested deployment of tactical resources are based upon the Probability of Success Rate (PSR). The major components of determining the PSR is the speed of Search and Rescue (SAR) resources, the Probability of Detection (POD), and the Probability of Area (POA). First responders responding to lost persons incidents are required to file reports but quick access to these reports are rarely possible during real time incident response. Determining the POD in the land environment has also been problematic. Products or procedures that can capitalize on existing GIS information such as Light Detection And Ranging (LIDAR) data to provide a predictive sweep width value (a component of determining POD) may prove valuable. A database of environmental and terrain conditions that might predict the sweep width value is another approach. Although many databases exist, there is no tool that is able to quickly search and analyze the stored information to arrive at the best possible approach to finding the lost person.