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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