More recently we had a search for a missing sky diver. I only mention this because I had never searched for somebody who may have fallen from the sky. There is no way to track them, and they can fall into heavy brush where a walking person can’t access. This makes the searching very difficult.
LET: What kind of low-tech equipment works for you? How would you improve it?
JL: We are big users of analog radio systems, whistles, flashlights, printed maps, pencils and simple compasses. Equipment must be capable of operating in the cold and wet. Something that works well on the showroom floor may not be worth anything in the field. A few years ago we evaluated a new litter tie-in system. It worked great when we tried it out, but a bit more investigation showed that all the buckles would fill up with snow and become inoperable. Equipment must be simple to operate, and not “fiddly.” If you can use it while wearing gloves, all the better. Rescuers are often sleep-deprived, cold and tired. Simple and rugged is best.
Night vision in Sierra County
I also had an opportunity to talk to Dep. Matt Boyd of the Sierra County Sheriff’s Office. Sierra County is an area where Californians vacation to “get away from it all.” Although the main highways are quite accessible year-round, most of the wilderness areas are just that: wilderness. Sierra County is rich with fishing, camping and winter sports. It is home to the Downieville Classic, the raison d’etre for hard-core all-mountain, cross country and downhill mountain bike racing.
The type of deputy that carries rope and a backpack in his or her patrol vehicle or rides a snow machine is a special type of officer. Boyd told me that wilderness cases, both rescue and enforcement, are very common in Sierra County. He agreed that while high-tech is great, nothing beats reliable equipment, planning and organization.
Boyd’s agency uses the ATN PVS-7 goggle, purchased through a homeland security grant. This latest generation of technology has dramatically improved the clarity of the intensified image. Not to mention, a couple of AA batteries can last through an entire operation.
Boyd’s agency also uses FLIR thermal detectors, not image intensifiers. One night vision product I’ve experimented with, the FLIR H-Series Compact Tactical Thermal Night Vision Camera, can pick a lone figure out of a hillside of vegetation. Boyd told me they used their FLIR cameras during operations and training with satisfactory results. Both technologies have their limitations and advantages; I recommend that agencies have both available to their officers.
Lindsey Bertomen is a retired police officer who teaches at Hartnell College in Salinas, Calif. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.