Members of the Piedmont Search and Rescue team visited my Sisters in Crime chapter this month and talked with us about tracking and what they do on search and rescue missions. They also set up a demonstration in the woods outside of the library. Here's what I learned...
Piedmont Search and Rescue provides operational, equine, and management resources. All of their members are volunteers and are dispatched by requests from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. They provide tracking and search resources for missing persons, despondents, and missing aircraft. Their members train monthly and have to have certifications for each level. Most of the volunteers log about 400 hours a year. There were over 100 searches last year in Virginia where they were asked to participate.
Missing persons with dementia tend to walk out the door and stay on a straight path until there is an obstacle. Autistic children tend to be found near water. Small children tend to hide in and under things. Missing adults used to be found in lower grounds because they were trying to get back to a populated area. Nowadays, they are often found on higher ground because they are trying to get a cell phone signal. More searches happen in the fall because of hunting, hiking, and leaf peeping.
They called their trackers "leaf sniffers" because they were on the ground looking for tracks and indentations. They photograph clues as well as sketch them (especially shoe tread patterns). Soft muddy or sandy soils are "track traps." Tracking is very methodical, and all details are documented. When you are searching, look at things from different angles. Always remember to look up. Things/clues get caught in the bushes and small trees. They often use their flashlights during the day to see different angles of footprints. Those who staff the base camp are often called "Twinkies."
When they are searching for clandestine graves, they look for areas of land that have a caved in look. The soil is often darker in these areas. Also the surrounding vegetation tends to stop, and there is a new crop of fast-growing weeds. One time, they were searching for a missing person in Augusta County near the site of a bloody Civil War battlefield. They said that the dogs were getting hits off of the burial grounds and what was the old military hospital.
Equestrian tracking gives the rider a higher vantage point. Horses/mules sense movement quickly and alert their riders. Working or herding dogs are often used for air scent searches. Bloodhounds search on leash, while the air scent search dogs tend to search off leash.
For night searches, they often use red or green lights to protect their night vision. However, red doesn't not work well with topographical maps because many of the lines are red. And if you need a sample of your footprint, stamp on a piece of tin foil.
Search and Rescue Acronyms:
- AHJ Authority Having Jurisdiction
- IPP Initial Planning Point (Where the Search Begins)
- LE Law Enforcement
- LKP Last Known Point
- PLS Point Last Seen
- POD Probablity of Detection