Search and rescue coordinators -- whether they work on sea or on land --
have to be able to pull together a team on a moment's notice. That team will
go out into the ocean, the mountains or even the city to find missing or injured
But for all of the excitement, coordinators in general do little of the
"We give [rescuers] direction as best we can on where to fly, but they
actually handle the on-scene coordination," says Lt. Jason Ryan. He works
with the U.S. Coast Guard.
"In cases where there are a lot of units that are going to be searching,
we always designate an on-scene commander, which will be a U.S. Navy ship
or aircraft, or a coast guard ship or aircraft."
When Ryan's center gets the call that a boat is taking on water or there
is a person overboard, he directs the rescue operation.
He sends helicopters, aircraft and patrol boats to the scene. To keep the
area safe and limit the possibility of other ships becoming injured during
a rescue, he diverts merchant ships away from the scene.
"The term that they use to describe search and rescue planning is it is
both an art and a science," he says. "Certain things can be reduced to mathematics
as far as search planning goes, but a lot of it is detective work. That is
where the art comes in."
On land, the role of a search and rescue coordinator is a little different.
Search and rescue teams are pulled together to find a child that has wandered
away from home, or to locate an elderly person who might be suffering from
"The basic job of the search manager is to determine the probability of
area and coordinate the search teams to cover that [area] adequately," says
coordinator Bob Gazzard.
"It would be my position to make sure that the facilities, the search and
all the support groups are working as a team in a coordinated search effort."
That kind of duty requires some specific knowledge. Familiarity with studies
that talk about how a lost person tends to act is important, he says. Much
of that knowledge comes from publicly available training, but most of it comes