With respect to airborne search and rescue, it is hard to overstate the importance of "area familiarization." Or "AF" as I will refer to it from here on. To quote Yogi Berra, "It's like Deja Vu all over again!"
It is something we did regularly in the Fire Department. We'd load up the rookie in the engine and take him around the station's first response area to get him familiar with street names, FDCs, hydrants, target hazards, funky streets and little known cut-throughs. Then we'd buy dinner stuff to cook back at the station after we agreed on what dinner would be. The we would refuel if the last shift had had a busy night and couldn't get around to doing it. But more importantly, it was an excuse to get out of the station.
(Engine 11) "Engine 11 - Seminole - Engine 11's on the air. Area familiarization."
(Seminole dispatch) "Engine 11 check."
When Nancy and I lived aboard Lily Pad we became intimately aware of the value of what is called "local knowledge" in the boat cruising community. Water is deceptively dangerous. To trust what you see on the surface is a date with disaster. Subsurface objects such as rocks, pilings, sunken boats, barely floating tanks, deadheads, etc., objects of the scariest kind loom up suddenly out of nowhere and you have a serious "holy $#!+!" moment. You get used to asking directions from locals and even with that you take the occasional collision.
(Lily Pad) "Securite - This is Lily Pad, Lily Pad, Lily Pad - There is a large deadhead, mid-channel on the ICW at Marineland."
My dad loved to fly and he was an extraordinarily good pilot. During WWII he was often asked to co-pilot with the squadron commander on what they called "JFA" flights. Imagine jumping in the fastest most responsive medium bomber of the day and taking it for a spin just for the fun of it. In polite company JFA stands for "just flying around." We do a lot of JFA flying in the paramotor community. In fact all of it is JFA, basically. We become pretty familiar with our surroundings close to where we launch and land. It is always fun to fly somewhere new when we can. ASAR is the perfect excuse to fly somewhere new and the team gives you the support system you need to make it safer than it normally would be. That plus the fact you become familiar with another part of your Squadron home area. Finding a new place to launch, land and search is basically raised to the level of a science. It increases your value in the actual search and rescue sphere as you become an expert on an ever widening space. And you get to have a lot of fun in the process.
So whether you refer to it as "area familiarization", "local knowledge" or "JFA"; they all increase your odds of helping in a search and rescue operation and significantly increases your personal safety factor while searching. You already know the hazards of a given area, be they air traffic, or where to land or just tall obstacles. You've been here before and were able to fly it at leisure. You know the likely places where someone or something may be found and that keeps you from wasting time in the search. So, set up a team goal and timetable for searching new areas; say, one new area a month. A ten-square-mile sized area is very reasonable and can be searched in an hour normally. You may be able to cover more as your team's skills become better.
Keep a map on the clubhouse wall or in a binder with areas searched and notes taken. Increase the level of search difficulty slowly and carefully fitted to your team's skills and confidence level. Work together to coordinate your individual responsibilities and abilities. Use the best of these areas to invite and challenge the other Squadrons to a personal best or timed competition. Hide a dummy in the same spot each time and see how fast the team is in locating and retrieving it safely. Read more on this subject in this article on the blog by Kurt Dugger. He should write a book and call it "Airborne Search and Rescue for Dummies!" Just saying . . .
In my next article, I will go over which programs I use on my computer to plot search and rescue search patterns. Or . . . maybe something else. It will be interesting.
If you have enjoyed this article, please feel free to comment or ask questions. Outside input is welcome. This is an evolutionary process.
"What do we do?"
"How do we do it?"
Red Angel One