For many folks, Saturdays are reserved for leisure activities, doing chores, and spending precious time with family and friends. Depending upon how you look at it, ALERT (a Londonderry Emergency Response Team) did all of those things in Londonderry’s Musquash conservation area on Saturday, March 21st – but with a deeper purpose in mind. Seventeen members of the group gathered on that second day of New Hampshire’s “spring”, a brisk morning with temperatures initially hovering in the mid-20’s, to do a bit of winter emergency search training, using three exercises.
The first exercise was a line search. The scenario was that an elderly gentleman, possibly with dementia, had walked into the woods during dangerous ice and snow conditions and had not been seen for sometime. The goal of this line search was to either locate the missing person or discover clues, such as footprints, articles of clothing, or personal effects that might suggest the direction in which the gentleman may have traveled.
The challenge of the line search was to methodically cover the territory in a grid formation, while maintaining the line over often difficult terrain. The task of each participant was to keep the teammate to either side of him in view, while concentrating his search efforts on the area directly in front of him, searching for clues that the elderly man may have left. Certain team members took turns as line leaders and during this exercise, maintained the authority to stop the line when it was getting out of formation or when a clue was discovered. As the search progressed forward, the area covered was marked off with flagging tape, so that the team knew where it has already searched, thus avoiding covering the same territory twice as the team swung around to cover the next section of the grid. The specific locations of possible clues discovered along the way were also marked and GPS coordinates called in by radio to the base.
A good mix of snow and frozen mud covered the ground that day, even in the heavily treed areas, making a perfect setting for this first winter line training of 2009. With the day’s participants spread out in a virtual line, maintaining a distance of about ten feet between each member, the line practiced methodical line search techniques and was able to successfully discover the props that had been randomly placed in the woods by ALERT trainer Rich Semaski prior to the exercise. While some confusion reigned at the beginning leg of the exercise, a typical occurrence in line searches as a team learns to work together, the team began to function quite well on subsequent legs.
The second exercise involved three separate teams, whose task was to locate strategically-placed clues in the wooded areas, using GPS equipment and good old fashioned compasses. While GPS is a wonderful technology, it was comforting to know that a compass works just as well and was a welcome tool to most of the team, some of whom are still wrestling with the quirks and confusing manuals for their GPS equipment.
The final exercise was Stokes basket training, in which the team practiced carrying a simulated dead body on a stretcher over uneven and wooded terrain for a distance of several hundred yards. According to ALERT member Wayne Hall, it is now abundantly clear to the team why it takes as many as twenty people to carry a 200-lb person one mile through the woods. This is an exhausting exercise, but a crucial one that can save a life.
The day’s exercises again reinforced the need to be prepared, particularly with regard to the clothing worn. Rich Semaski noted that it was evident that those who had dressed in layers, were wearing clothing that could wick (e.g. no jeans or cotton materials), and were prepared with proper boots, gloves and hats, had “survived” the session better than others and would have faired better in a real emergency that might have lasted longer and become colder as the day wore on.
Lessons practiced and lessons learned increase ALERT’s preparedness and experience, with the team always ready, on a moment’s notice, to assist our local fire and police departments in emergencies. And of course, always keeping us “alert”.
ALERT provides a myriad of volunteer services to the community and always welcomes new members. If you are interested in checking us out or contacting us, feel free to visit our website at www.londonderryALERT.org.
Images Champion Photo LLC.