Finding a missing person involves determining where they’ve been, where they’re going and following the trail to where they are now. It requires coordination, cooperation and teamwork.
The Meridian Public Safety Training Facility this week hosted more than a dozen firefighters, police and emergency management officials from throughout the state for a Fundamentals of Search and Rescue class to learn those skills.
Meridian Public Safety Director Doug Stephens said the week-long training camp introduced students to a standardized search and rescue platform which each student could use to properly break an area into searchable lanes, navigate through deep woods and identify signs of a missing person.
“And it works. There’s a science behind it," he said. "A lot of people think you just get on these side-by-sides and ride up and down these roads and find people. You’ve got to get out there.”
Water Valley Fire Department Chief Mark McGavock, who was an instructor in this week’s class, said students were taught the same skills and the same methods of search and rescue used nationwide. When everyone is trained the same way, he said, it makes searching more effective.
“We’re tasked a lot in Mississippi with either a hurricane or an event that happens where we do a wide area search that requires a lot of searchers, or we’re also tasked with an individual that’s missing,” he said. “We can break a huge team up into a small part, and they’re all trained the same. When they’re the same we can expect a result. A that’s when we’re an asset to the state or to state’s surrounding us for lost and missing people.”
McGavock said the training also allows for better coordination between different agencies after a natural disaster or missing person alert.
“If you’re from Gulfport, and I’m from Water Valley, when we show up at a scene in Philadelphia, we’re going to search exactly the same way,” he said. “Terminology is the same, everything is exactly the same.”
Sergio Vergara with the Water Valley Fire Department said the training and being involved with the task force is another opportunity to serve his community and help residents when they need it most. The classes introduced a lot of new information and were certainly a challenge, Vergara said.
“It’s a lot of hard work out here,” he said. “It’s eye opening the stuff you don’t know, but then once you get it down, it’s kind of exhilarating.”
The Fundamentals of Search and Rescue was a basic search and rescue course, Stephens said. It was meant to introduce the concepts of search and rescue and build a platform of knowledge students could both put to use in the field and continue to grow through intermediate and advanced search and rescue classes.
Graduates of Meridian Public Safety Training Facility’s FUNSAR course have worked search and rescue throughout Mississippi and have helped support other states after hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters.