I try not to load folks up with too-frequent blog posts, but there’s a development out of Florida that begs for immediate analysis and wider distribution. It’s the case of two boys who went out by themselves on a small boat, got caught up in a big storm, and have never been found. The investigating agency cites egregious errors by all involved, including the parents who waited two hours before calling authorities to report the boys overdue.

In a land search, such as what Ruger and I do, it’s simple math. If somebody can walk three miles an hour then in two hours they can cover six miles. But that’s six miles in any direction. We seldom know which direction they went. On flat, open ground, a two-hour delay in starting our search gives us an initial search area of 113 square miles. There is no SAR team in the country with enough personnel to cover that kind of ground.

The good news is that in western Washington, it’s hard to walk six miles in any one direction. There are usually trails involved, so we have some idea where to look. If the missing person is off-trail, their pace would slow dramatically and we’d have a better chance of catching up. But the concept remains the same: the sooner we start looking, the less area we have to cover.

There is not an unlimited source of SAR personnel anywhere in the country. Our incident commanders are always making tough choices about probable areas to search, leaving less likely areas to be checked later. If we start searching sooner we can give more detailed (and immediate) coverage to the high-probability areas.

If someone you know to be reliable is overdue, call 911 and get search teams rolling. I’d rather be cancelled half-way to the trailhead than have the person get outside our search area and perish.

That’s also why most SAR volunteers oppose charging for searches, even after the most irresponsible behavior. If people delay calling for fear of getting a bill, we’ll be slower out of the gate and lives will undoubtedly be lost.

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