Conducting a Search: GSAR

The following are some general best practices for conducting ground searches. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it offers some of the most common approaches and considerations shared by the Kitikmeot’s community responders.

During a ground search and rescue, GSAR teams should be separated into pairs. Community SAR teams should never send out solo searchers. Each pair should consist of an experienced searcher/elder and a new recruit to help with the transmission of knowledge and skills. Whenever possible, a GSAR pair should be kept together for training or performing a search. Eventually, the member will be in a position to pass along all the knowledge that they have learned to another recruit. Participation in GSAR teams also represents a valuable way to transmit traditional knowledge between generations.

Each pair should have an inReach device or GPS that is hooked up to the community command post. Ideally, search teams would be well-equipped with inReach devices. The inReach devices are “a SAR game changer,” one community responder described. “They are the Connor McDavid of searches.” In the field, they provide access to weather forecasts, instant messaging, and “all the tracking capabilities that a searcher needs.” With each pair of searchers using an inReach device, people at the command post in the community can use laptops to keep track of where all the teams are operating and where they have searched. They also can remain in constant communication via messaging. Information received from searchers can be relayed back to Nunavut Emergency Management or the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre. Community members could even log onto the search to allow them to track it, or it could be shared on Facebook.

InReach data showing the tracks of a search party involved in the search for a missing hunting party outside Gjoa Haven between 9 and 11 June 2020. The flags in the second image mark the tracking points transmitted by the inReach device. During this period, this device sent and received over 100 coordinating and information sharing text messages.

In each search pair, one searcher should be responsible for keeping track of the time, location, and for regularly checking in with the SAR command post, while the other remains completely focused on looking for tracks or other signs of the missing person.

During long searches or when the search occurs far from a community, base camps should be established on the land to save the searchers from having to travel to the community for resupply.

Searches should orchestrated and supported from a command centre set up in the hamlet office or other suitable location.  

Searchers must know who they are looking for. Searchers often know the people they are looking for, but not all the personal details. The members of the SAR Committee/GSAR team who stay in the community need to gather as much information as possible. For instance, during a recent search, one community’s GSAR team found out that the missing person was a diabetic and brought candy with them to increase his blood sugar in case it was low.

During a search, community SAR organizations should remain in close contact with Nunavut Emergency Management and with the southern organizations responsible for SAR. It is essential that community searchers know how to talk with NEM or the JRCC, including an awareness of the information that they need to share and how to relay that information effectively. Community searchers need to share as much as possible about popular routes to help narrow down search parameters.

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