How to Describe Someone

As Paul Harvey used to say, “this is closed circuit” for the SAR community, though others might find it interesting reading. In this blog post we’ll go through the preferred way to format descriptions of persons and send them by voice over a two-way radio.

Let me start with something that sounds ridiculous: The purpose of a description is NOT to identify a subject. That’s right, the purpose of a description is not to ID a missing subject or criminal. (Bob, that’s crazy talk!) Please let me explain. The purpose of a description is to quickly RULE OUT those who couldn’t possibly be the person you’re seeking. If you look at the person and can’t rule them out, the correct next step is to inquire further and make positive identification by talking with them.

OK, back to reality.

A description is no good unless everyone involved in the search has it, so how do you send that via radio? A good description will allow the receiving party to build a mental image as the information unfolds, ending up with a nearly complete picture in their head.

I’ve heard descriptions that went “red hair, blue jeans, three years old, white tennies, 40 pounds, pink shirt, about 3′ tall.” I don’t about you, but I can’t build a mental image on the fly from that description.

Law enforcement has developed a protocol for passing along descriptions that has stood the test of time. In this model, information flows from most obvious to least obvious, and top to bottom. Kinda the way our brains work.

When you look at someone from a distance, the first things you can see are race and gender. You can generally tell how old they are, at least within a range, and determine a build (stocky, slim, etc). The next round of information goes top to bottom, starting with hair color and ending with shoes if they can be seen.

The above description would become “white female, 3 years old, 3′ tall and 40 pounds. She’s got red hair, pink shirt, blue jeans and white tennies.”

And to keep up while that’s being read, your notebook shorthand becomes “W/F, 3 yrs, 3’/40lbs. Rd Hr, pink shirt, jeans and white shoes.”

Eye color is rarely known, and not many three-year olds have facial hair, but those items go between the hair color and clothing. For an adult that might become “W/M, 57 yrs, 5’10” 190#, Br/Blu, goatee, red shirt, camo pants and boots.”

By putting the same information in the same place every time, the recipient knows what’s coming. They’ll be more likely to record everything accurately the first time, which helps reduce radio traffic when repeats are necessary.

By convention, if you have the name, it goes first. “Subject is Anderson, Bill, w/m, 57 years……”

If your team hasn’t adopted these protocols I’d suggest first practicing them at a team meeting, and fold that into your radio procedure once everybody’s solid on the topic.

End of closed circuit. I hope you found this helpful and informative.

Stay Found!

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Make Memories – Protect Kids

I think I blogged about this a couple years ago, but after an incident at a recent farmer’s market I’m motivated to address the topic again.

The other night a 9-year old boy did what 9-year olds do: he got bored and wandered off. Everything turned out fine. The market leadership responded quickly, set containment at the corners and had the parents call 911. Several of us began searching the market, but while I knew what the boy looked like (he’d been to my booth), not everyone else did. We had a description, but young blonde males in green t-shirts aren’t uncommon, and this particular boy looked old for his age.

My respectful suggestion? When you get to an event with your child take their picture. First and foremost you’ll have a lasting memory of a fun time. If your child does wander off then you’ll have an image that reflects not only their current age and appearance, but what they’re actually wearing that day! You can quickly text it to everyone who’s going to be looking for the child.

Child abductions are thankfully rare. Most disappearances are short-lived and result from honest confusion, perhaps salted with poor decision-making by the involved children. But pictures are free and can be deleted later if not needed. Better to have one and not need it, than need a picture and not have it.

Stay Found!

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The loose leash secret to meeting other dogs.

In this post I’m going to share a secret for reducing the chances of a fight when introducing your dog to other dogs. But first, a message from common sense.

You don’t need to meet every dog you encounter. It’s legal in all 50 states to say “good morning” to the other handler and just keep walking. Yes, if you choose to have a conversation with another dog owner, your own dog should be able to sit quietly at your side. Obedience instructors spend a lot of time on this, but don’t take that as a sign that you need to meet every dog you pass. As Nancy Reagan said, “just keep walking.” Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

If you are in a situation where you must meet another dog, remember that emotions flow right down the leash. If you show nervousness about the encounter, your dog will pick up on that. You’re the pack leader. If you signal through the leash that there’s a reason to be nervous then the whole pack goes on DefCon1.

Additionally, if you tighten up on the leash the dog might feel restrained and unable to maneuver, adding to its stress.

What I’m suggesting very hard and completely counter-intuitive: if you must meet a new dog (see paragraph 2) then do so with a slack lead, and ask the other dog handler to do the same.

Just let the leash go slack as the dogs greet noses and check each other’s business cards. Be prepared to lean over or step forward to keep the leash slack as they move about. You might have to deal with bit of tangle, but that’s better than dealing with a bit of fight.

And believe me, if the dogs do decide to fight, having a taut lead will make zero difference in your ability to get them apart before blood is drawn. It will all happen just too fast.

And another thing! Along the theory that emotions flow down the leash…if your dog is having a bad day and seems to have regressed to shoe-chewing, carpet-peeing puppyhood…look in the mirror. If you’re having a bad day then the dog that loves you is having a bad day, even if they don’t know why. Set a good example for them.

Stay Found!

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Call of Doody

I know you. We’ve met. You’re a responsible dog owner. You keep your dog under control, give other dogs appropriate space, and always always always pick up your pooch’s poop.

But what do you do when there’s no garbage can in the immediate vicinity? Some good spots are so remote there’s no reason to put a can there. In other places the cans attract vermin or get vandalised, and are being removed by park managers.

So when it’s time to head home after doing your civic doody, where do you carry it? Even the thickest of bags allow some odor to get out. You do not want that in your car or SUV, especially on a hot day- and double-especially if you’re making a stop along the way.

The gas cap cover on my Tahoe will easily hold a bag of poop, and my pickup will hold two! No odor inside the rig, and no danger of it coming loose from some other attachment point such as the radio antenna or windshield wiper. When you get to the gas station there’s always a garbage can, and plenty of other odors to mask the one you’re leaving.

So there you have it. A place to keep a baggie of poop without stinking up the car. You can be a responsible dog owner and not have your sinuses start to close up

*Urgent Footnote: You might not want to try this in Oregon, or any state that requires an attendant to pump your gas. That’s a surprise they don’t deserve.

*Even More-Urgent Footnote: do not EVER put a baggie of dog poop under your windshield wiper. An accidental activation has only two outcomes, both bad. 1) The bag breaks. Ewww. 2) The bag doesn’t break and is launched into the path of a motorcycle cop.

Stay Found!

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Give That Dog a Pay Raise!

Sometimes you know something, but it takes a new situation to remind you of it, and to reinforce it.

Ruger’s rubber toy on the left, Rocco’s canvas paycheck on the right.

I forgot a critical element when I started my new dog Rocco on the detection of human remains. I started out rewarding Rocco with the same toy Ruger likes because, well, it was in my pack. But Ruger’s toy is rubber and sometimes hard to pull out of a pocket quicky. With a beginning dog, you want to reward behavior instantly. So for no other reason than to avoid ripping my pants I switched to a toy that was similar, but made of canvas not rubber. It simply came out of my pocket easier.

Ho-Lee-Cow. I couldn’t believe the difference in Rocco.

His play has become much more animated. He’s much more reluctant to give me back the toy. He’s a complete bull-in-a-china-shop when I toss it someplace, and he’s even nipped my fingers a couple times trying to get it back from me. (Just part of being a dog handler.)

My point is that if you’re not getting the behavior you want from your dog, part of the problem might be the reward. Virtually every dog owner is trying to get certain behaviors from their companion. You first need to make sure the dog knows what’s expected, but the other half is making it worth their while.

Consider the following:

  • Bigger version of the same toy (yes, it works).
  • Let the dog choose from a sack of toys.
  • Longer praise and play.
  • Really yummier treats (if food is your reward).

The little twerps are actually capitalists who would put Rockefeller to shame. They’ll do what you want, but the price has to be right.

Stay Found.

Could My Fido Be a Search Dog?

I’m asked a lot by dog owners whether their dog could be a search dog. Many times they seem genuinely interested in the process, until they learn the training requires about 300 hours per year for two years to get that first dog mission-ready.

The American Kennel Club has an outstanding option for those whose dog needs a job, or in this case, a hobby. K9 Scent work (sometimes called Nosework) is an AKC competitive dog sport that very closely replicates the world of cadaver dogs (or drug or bomb dogs). Instead of finding dead humans, the dogs are trained to find the odors of three different essential oils.

Here’s a link to the AKC page on Scent Work

You can also find instructors in your area by Googling “Scent Work” or “Nosework.”

Can your dog do this? Of course. Some of the pug-nosed dogs might struggle, but pretty much every other breed can handle this. Some individual dogs won’t enjoy the game, just like some people don’t like tennis or Monopoly.

So get out there and have a good time with your dog, and Stay Found!

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Doggie Needs a Potty Break!

There are lots of good reasons to avoid leaving your dog in your car, but there are lots of good reasons why it happens. In SAR, we get our dogs used to being in the car because we might be given a task that doesn’t require the use of a dog. For example, helping to carry an injured subject out of the woods is an all-hands drill, but you don’t want a dog running around underfoot.

So if your dog is going to be in the car for an extended period, it’ll need potty breaks. Will you be around to do that?

Some dogs consider a car their “territory” and will defend it even if they’d welcome burglars into the family home. If yours is one of those dogs you should desensitize it to having strangers get it in and out of the car.

Start out by having a friend with whom the dog is familiar get it in and out, with you present. Have them (not you!) provide lots of treats as they go. Then move up to a stranger, but again with you present. Finally, have a stranger go up to the car with you nearby but out of sight.

If your dog just won’t accept a potty break from a stranger, that’s OK. At least you know. And if it will, all the better. It’ll put your mind at ease in situations where you might have some bigger issue going on.

Stay Found!

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Chicken Soup for the…Dog

Your grandmother was right. Chicken soup cures almost everything, and that’s even true in the dog world.

Two of the biggest problems with working dogs are being too hot, and being too cold. Chicken Soup, or more accurately low-sodium chicken broth, can help with each of those.

Low-Sodium Chicken Broth for cooling or heating your dog.

For hot days, freeze a can of chicken broth. Let it thaw just enough to get it out of the can, and drop it in your dog’s water bowl. It’ll not only cool the water, but as it melts the flavor will encourage your dog to drink. The only caution is against leaving the mixture out too long after the block completely melts. Just like any other food, it needs to be kept cool, or hot. Which brings me to the next suggestion.

When it’s cold, some hot chicken broth in a thermos is great when your dog gets back to the car. Cold days can be dry days, so your dog can still be dehydrated. Getting them to drink some lukewarm chicken broth can both warm and rehydrate your K9 buddy. How hot? Check a few drops on your wrist, just like you might check milk from a baby bottle.

Is chicken soup good for the soul? I don’t know, but chicken broth is good for the dog, and the dog is definitely good for your soul.

Stay Found!

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It’s Always Communication

I’ve been around emergency services since the early 1970s, and when events didn’t go well, communications was always a major reason.

But here’s the other bit of news: even when things DO go well, communications is always cited as an “area for improvement.”

How does this apply to you? You should get used to the fact that in a major disaster your cell phone won’t work. You’ll be lucky if texts go through, but that’s not guaranteed. Worst of all, they might be delayed, which could make for massive confusion if yesterday’s texts start arriving today.

I keep a stash of low-cost Family Radio Service walkie-talkies at my house. My wife hates technology, but these are things that even she can operate. I store them in an air-tight ammo can, without the batteries installed, and I avoid using them for anything but disasters. I have other FRS radios for dog training or other needs. But just like that extra roll of TP or that terrible-tasting emergency food, my stash of FRS radios is waiting for the big one.

You should have one radio for every member of your family, along with spare batteries. Did I mention that you should store them with the batteries out? That way they won’t be a cruddy mess in two years when the batteries leak all over the inside. The only hitch this creates is that with some models they will likely be back at factory defaults when you put the batteries in. One thing not shown in the picture is an instruction manual, which might be a good thing to also have in your radio box.

These combined FRS/GMRS radios are for advanced users. Google “General Mobile Radio Service” for more information.

These radios will allow family members to be in touch at least around the neighborhood. The range can be a bit limited, but if you send an older child to check on elderly neighbors or to the corner store for supplies you’ll be able to stay in touch.

I think my love of radios started when I got some 1960s-era walkie talkies for Christmas when I was about 11. I had a paper route then, and a month or so later I had to deliver papers in a massive snow-and-freezing-rain storm. My folks made me take one of the radios so I could stay in touch with them from my route. I highly recommend them for all families.

Stay Found!

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Gun Dog!

Ruger comes from a long line of gun dogs, so we’re making a gun dog out of him.

Huh? There are really two meanings to the term “gun dog.”

In the hunting world, a gun dog is a hunting dog that responds when the hunter drops a bird. The term implies that the dog is used to working around guns and won’t be skittish at the sound of firing.

In the search and rescue world, a gun dog is a dog that finds guns, or expended shell casings, at the request of police. It’s not well known that SAR teams work a lot of crime scenes. We don’t chase criminals, but we are frequently called to look for evidence and occasionally for bodies.

Ruger is already nationally certified to find both live and deceased people. We’re adding what’s called “Gun Shot Residue” to his resume. Over the past few months Ruger has been finding progressively fewer shell casings tossed into grass. The eventual expectation is that he’ll be able to find a single shell casing in a 100’x100′ area, along with guns themselves.

One curve ball is that we’re not allowed to have firearms at SAR trainings. That’s kinda like training a cadaver dog when you can’t have a human body in your freezer. So we work around this challenge by bringing gun parts that are dirty, but not bringing an entire functioning weapon.

Not sure yet when we’re going to take our test, but we’ll keep you posted.