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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One thought on “How to Describe Someone

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