A CoCoSAR Training We Couldn’t Pass Up

On the weekend of October 26th Urban Shield 2013 will be taking place across the Bay Area. Urban Shield is a comprehensive full-scale, regional preparedness exercise. It encompasses real world scenarios to assess the Bay Area Region‘s response capabilities related to multi-discipline planning, policies, procedures, organization, equipment and training. Urban Shield tests regional integrated systems for prevention, protection, response and recovery in our high-threat, high-density urban area.

This year Contra Costa is the lead participant under the Emergency Management Area Command in Urban Shield.  As such, we will be the lead Emergency Operations Center and Coroner responding to a mass fatality incident—a simulated train collision in Martinez. This will be a multi-County Emergency Operations Center functional exercise in the morning with a Portable Field Morgue and Mock Family Assistance Center Demonstration in the afternoon. 

The afternoon Demonstration will simulate a full activation of a Disaster Mortuary Operations response Team (DMORT), including

  • temporary field morgue facilities
  • victim identification & processing
  • forensic dental pathology
  • forensic anthropology methods
  • DNA processing
  • radiology
  • disposition of remains

We expect up to 200 representatives from across the Bay Area and California Coroner’s Offices, fire, law and public health to attend the Portable Morgue & Family Assistance Center Demonstration.

While this is outside of the normal scope of the SAR mission, if we were to experience a large scale incident of this nature, there is a good chance the SAR Team would be involved in one way or another.

Due to the unique opportunity to work directly with our regional, state and out-of-state partners, CoCoSAR will be integrating our monthly full team training resources into this regional exercise. Supporting this exercise will give us the opportunity to get hands on experience setting up large-scale, federal disaster response assets, observe–and possibly participate in–regional mutual aid EOC coordination, familiarize ourselves with portable field morgue resources, as well as develop relationships with our regional and out-of-state partners.

CoCoSAR Team members can sign up at http://contracostasar.org/Detail/Search/urban.

EMR in Action, ctd.

Team member Mikel Kinser was at home, where his wife was hosting a couple’s baby shower for one of her coworkers:

“I was outside when I heard a loud crash and my wife yelled from inside for help. I ran inside and found one of her guests prone on the floor next to a chair that had fallen over. My wife said she fell over after saying she was dizzy and had asked for a glass of water.

Her head hit the ground hard and she lost consciousness for a moment. I told my wife to call 911. As the guest started to come around, I began speaking to her, asking her questions. She was A&OX3, not knowing what happened to her, but did know her name, where she was, and what day it was. I also took her pulse and respiration. I began feeding this information to my wife, who was on the phone with 911.

She also had a large bump on her head where she hit the ground, but no blood. She had free motion with her head and neck so I did not feel there was any spinal or neck injury. I checked her eyes for PERRL and all was good. I kept her on the ground where I found her, and checked with her for comfort (warm or cold). Paramedics arrived within five minutes of the call and took over. I relayed the info again to them: patient name, what happened and patient vitals. From there I just observed the five emergency workers. They did an EKG on her (normal) but they did find that when she stood up her BP dropped a lot. She refused transport, and I had to sign as a witness.

She remained at our house until a friend of hers could come and pick her up. We told the friend to keep an eye on her as she had hit her head and could have a concussion. She returned the next day for her car and was fine except for the bump.

Looking back on it, I felt calm going through the steps, but could have done better (I had a BP cuff in my office and I did not think about it until later). I also did not do CMSTP, which I should have. I feel worse for the things I did not do than good about what I did do, because I know from my EMR training what is supposed to be done. I can see that continued exposure to this is the only way to stay on top of it and do it correctly.”

Announcement: Upcoming COCOSAR Rope Rescue Training

USAR LAngleBeginning this month, and for three subsequent months, the USAR/MRG staff(s) will be offering rope rescue training to CoCoSAR team members. This training is open to all team members, regardless of their previous experience. The trainings will be tailored to attendees' skill levels and held in the USAR resource monthly training slots (third Saturday of every month.)

Stay tuned for more details to come and start practicing your knots!

EMR in Action, ctd.

Today, after pulling an all-nighter for last night’s search, team member Wilma Murray was trying to shake the cobwebs by taking her dog for a walk when she was suddenly called upon to exercise her medical skills:

“We came upon a group of men converged on the sidewalk. They were gathered around a young man who sat (in a rather crumpled position) up against a retaining wall. 

The men were asking him if he was all right and what they could do for him. As I approached, I was told one of the men had seen him sitting there an hour before and when he returned, the young man was still in place. I asked the subject a few questions and getting no response, I took a closer look. His eyeballs were rapidly flickering and he was clearly in distress. I asked one of the men to call 9-1-1, asked another to please hold my dog's leash and explained I was trained in first aid. 

I bent down to the subject's level and introduced myself. My request for consent was met with a vague noise I took to be affirmative. I had no gloves with me (lesson learned), so I had to barehand it. I continued to try to get a response from him and was able, after repeated tries, to get his first and last names. His pulse was 120, respiration 24, forehead cold and clammy but face very hot. But it was the lack of awareness and the rapidly moving eyeballs that most concerned me. 

I saw no visible mechanism of injury or blood and did not conduct a head to toe (another lesson learned) as I instead busied myself with trying to get him comfortable leaning against me while trying to elicit information from him. One of the men handed me a bottle of water and I was able to get the subject to sip a few times. When help arrived, I gave the responders the subject's name, his vitals and told them what I had observed. 

It took six strong men to lift this very thin young man onto a stretcher.  The subject then began to seize and they had to strap him down before loading him into the ambulance. I have no idea if he will be all right, but I can only hope.

Once again, SAR training proved invaluable, but I was made painfully aware of how easy it is to make mistakes or not be thorough enough in a real-life situation. It only encourages me to practice, practice, practice. The good news is that my training kept me calm throughout the whole experience. Thank you SAR!”

SAR Word of the Day

positive-declination (1)

noun  / dekləˈnāSHən/
declinations, plural 

1. The angular deviation of a compass needle from true north (because the magnetic north pole and the geographic north pole do not coincide).

2.The horizontal angle between the true geographic North Pole and the magnetic north pole, as figured from a specific point on the earth. 

Know Your Snakes!

gopher vs rattlesnakeNow that spring and warmer weather is officially here, we’re all on the lookout for Crotalus oreganus, or as it’s more commonly known here in Contra Costa County, the Northern Pacific rattlesnake. They’re more active at this time of year, especially during mornings or evenings.

The Pituophis catenifer, or gopher snake, whose general coloration and behavior mimics a rattlesnake, is often mistaken for its poisonous relative, but it can easily be distinguished from a rattlesnake by the lack of black and white banding on its tail, and by the shape of its head, which is narrower than a rattlesnake's. It’s also typically much longer.

And thankfully, the gopher snake is harmless.

Ned MacKay, writing for Inside Bay Area, offers his annual pointers on rattlesnakes. Download more PDF Interpretation Brochures and Panels from the East Bay Parks website. 

Changing Channels on the new Motorola Mobile Radios

To find one of the “typical” channels we use in SAR (e.g. TAC 4, CALCORD, CLEMARS) follow these steps:

  1. Press the small rectangular button multiple times under the word “ZONE” to scroll to ZONE 10 (see the small letters above the channel identifier).
  2. Turn the larger channel knob on the right side of the display to change the channel (e.g. TAC 4).

Easy as that! The communications crew will be laminating a full ZONE LIST and placing it in all the SAR vehicles on the visor on the passenger side for reference for other channels if needed.

IMPORTANT - The orange button on the right, behind the channel knob is the “Officer Down” button.  Do NOT push this button unless it is a life or death emergency.



Bayesian Search Analytics and the Professional Searcher

By Chris Nichols

The recent Pleasant Hill search provided a simple example of working with Bayesian statistics to quickly find a subject. An efficient search is a balancing act between accurate field information and the allocation of resources by search management. The interplay between the two is one of the many activities that distinguish the lay searcher from the professional searcher.

For starters, the professional searcher thinks in terms of defined areas. This allows search management to better manage operations.

Another aspect is that the lay searcher is looking for the subject, while the professional searcher is also looking for clues and, almost as important, finding areas of where the subject is not.

Finally, one of the largest differences between lay and professional searchers is that the professional searcher thinks in terms of probabilities. Where a lay searcher might clear a trail and determine the subject is not there, the professional searcher might conclude that there is a 50 percent probability that the subject isn’t there. While the difference might seem slight, the practical application is huge.

Using the Pleasant Hill search as an example to pull this together, our team was on scene two hours after the subject went missing, allowing us a limited search area. Because of the behavior of the subject, we narrowed down the high probability areas to two segments. Search management now had a path to manage field teams. However, we still didn’t know if the subject would go north or south – this is where Bayesian statistics came in.

Since the subject could have turned left or right equally, we divided Contra Costa Blvd. into two segments, one south (Segment A) and one north (B), each having a 50-percent probability. We sent the first team south. Let’s say they came back with a probability of detection of 30 percent. We now can work the math so that our new probability of area (POA) equals (1-30 percent) X 50 percent / 1-(50 percent X 30 percent), or 41 percent.

Since the probability of area A goes down, that means the probability of area B goes up even though it has not been searched yet (a 0 percent of probability of detection). This can be proven in the formula 50 percent / 1-(50 percent x 30 percent), or 59 percent. Thus, Segment A’s POA went down from 50 percent to 41 percent after the first team completed its assignment, while B’s went from 50 percent to 59 percent.

We now can put additional resources into B (which we did) to bring down the probability. The inclusion of our old probability of area of 50 percent is what makes this a “Bayesian” calculation, after mathematician Thomas Bayes came up with theory in the 18th century. The inclusion of our old probability in the calculation serves to “anchor” our estimation closer to reality vs. other statistical methods.

After picking up some clues in the Pleasant Hill search, we started to flood the area with searchers in Segment B where the subject was eventually found. This mission provided us with the most basic example imaginable. Adding more segments would have complicated things fast, as we would have recomputed the POA for each segment searched and not searched. If we have 25 segments, as we often do, that is 25 x 25, or 625 computations per debrief. This is one reason why we keep a set of laptops handy in the CP.

Most important, the above calculations are mathematical proof that field teams are effective even when they don’t find the subject. Knowing that we have a reduced probability of Segment A allows a higher probability of success for the team searching B. If taken to the extreme, we could end up with the statistical probability in the final unsearched segment of something approaching 100 percent.

While a team injected to that final area would surely make the find, the mathematical reality is that the team searching that segment did comparatively little, as it was only through the effort of all the other teams in all the other segments that pointed the search manager to put that team in the final segment. This is why search and rescue is truly a team effort.

Next to staying safe, accurately assessing your probability of detection so the above analysis can be as precise as possible is one of the most important items you can do. No matter what your experience, having knowledge of how resources are allocated will not only help you better understand the search process, but will improve your capabilities as a professional searcher. 

Map and Compass Checklist


By Mark Sembrat

Do you have the hang of using a map and compass? Run through the whole procedure.  Remember the following.

  • Never use the magnetic needle or the declination arrow when measuring or plotting bearings on the map.
  • When taking or following a bearing in the field, always align the pointed end of the declination arrow with the north-seeking end of the magnetic needle.

Orienting a Map

  1. Set to 0 or 360 degrees
  2. Place compass on the map with the direction-of-travel line toward the north on the map.
  3. Turn the map and compass together until the north-seeking end of the compass needle is aligned.
  4. Compare information on the map with the field topography.

Taking (measuring) a Bearing in the Field

  1. Hold the compass level in front of you and point the direction-of-travel line at the desired object.
  2. Rotate the housing to align the declination arrow with the magnetic needle.
  3. Read the bearing at the index line.

Plotting (following) a Bearing in the Field

  1. Set the desired bearing at the index line.
  2. Hold the compass level in front of you and turn your entire body until the magnetic needle is aligned with the declination arrow.
  3. Travel in the direction shown by the direction-of-travel line.

Taking (measuring) a Bearing on a Map

  1. Place the compass on the map, with the edge of the base plate joining the two points of interest.
  2. Rotate the housing to align the compass meridian lines with the north-south lines on the map
  3. Read the bearing at the index line.

Plotting (following) a Bearing on a Map

  1. Set the desired bearing at the index line.
  2. Place the compass on the map, with the edge of the base plate on the feature from which you wish to plot a bearing.
  3. Turn the entire compass to align the meridian lines with the map’s north-south lines. The edge of the base plate is the bearing line.

Declination:  The difference between True North (T) and Magnetic North (M)—Use 15 Degrees. In this part of California . . .

  • True = Magnetic – 15
  • Magnetic = True + 15