Showing posts with label Search and rescue. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Search and rescue. Show all posts

Sunday, December 4, 2016

What Was Your Character Thinking? Or: What I Learned on a Cold Dark Training Mission

English: American Black Bear Ursus americanus ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I was out in the mountains of Virginia, training with the the K-9 Search and Rescue teams, but I was thinking a lot about plot development and characters. 

If I could pick one nugget to share from my experience, it would be that in a "situation" whatever the situation is that you've cooked up for your character, the thing on their mind will be the last related story they were told. 

Example 1:

I had been out as a walker most of the day tracking the handler who was tracking the dog who was tracking the lost person. We had a "find." A young woman and her friend were hanging out in the bramble as our subject. After applying fake first aid to a fake injury, we assisted in an equine evacuation. The girl and her friend had been in the woods for hours, and I was asking how they did. The woods can be a scary place. "Were you afraid?"
"Only of bears," she said.

Huh, okay. 

Fast forward, dinner's done back at base, and they're calling for volunteers to be staged in the woods. I was glad to do that, I'm quite comfortable in the woods, and I had sufficient equipment in my pack that the below freezing temperatures and chance of snow didn't feel concerning. So off I went. We drove until there was no more fire road, then I was walked waaaaay out into the woods until I hit the location they'd assigned me, and my handler left me there. The last thing the handler was talking about was bears in the woods. Since it was pitch black out there, I asked if I was allowed red lights (we don't use white lights in the woods if we're not using a search beam, because we're trying to keep our night vision. I use a green light when I'm walking in the woods at night, because it's easier to read a topographical map.) 
"Why do you want lights? Are you feeling scared?"
"No not really, it's just that you've been talking about black bears; and when the K-9 runs out of the brush, I'd like to know it's a dog and not a bear. I'd like to know if I'm about to get  licked or mauled."
"Good point, but no. We'd prefer you not use your lights."

So there I was. Alone. Wrapped in a black tarp. Sitting under a tree, contemplating life. And the rustling sounds around me. And was that a snort? 

As I said before, I'm perfectly okay in the woods, night or day. What sent me out of my comfort zone was that a potential threat loomed in the forefront of my thoughts, since it had been alluded to twice that day in the context of sitting alone in the woods. 

Those earlier conversations are what made me pull my knife out of its sheath and stab it into the dirt beside me. I kept my hand on the handle. A low level hum of "what if," ran the entire time I was waiting for my "rescue."

Example 2:

Fast forward; The K-9 team found me as the moisture in the air started to rise and the dew began to form. The temperatures were dropping precipitously. I headed to the equine camping area to warm up in front of the campfire before Hubby and I drove to our tent to get some sleep. Around the blaze, we were sharing war stories of past searches. One of the last stories they told was that the night before, only one equine searcher was in the area. It was a single woman in her horse camper. She was the only one who was supposed to be there. Late in the evening, she heard two men talking outside. She listened as they circled around her trailer. 

The woman called over to base and several men came over and did a search. Finding no one, they went on their way. The strangers came back and tried the woman's door handle. She racked the slide on her semi-automatic and called out, "Leave now or I shoot." They high tailed it out of there. 

It was an odd story because no one should have been testing her door's locks. It was also concerning because no one was supposed to be in the area, not even park staff. To be honest, there aren't many who want to hang out on the top of a mountain, camping in December. 

I heard the story and promptly forgot the story. That is, I forgot it until Hubby and I were in our tent. We were the only tent in the whole campground and the campground was a good distance from the equine area and even farther from base. No big deal, Hubby and I are perfectly comfortable in the woods. Though, a little warmer would have been more pleasant as far as our comfort went, that's for sure. 

As we lay in our tent, a dually truck drove around the camp twice, nice and slow. 

Here's what I was thinking:
I'm in silk long johns in my sleeping bag. My boots are a hassle to get on. No one would hear me if I screamed. My pack is in the car. I have no gun. I didn't even bring in my knives. It's around twenty degrees outside. There's nowhere to run except deeper into the woods. Dressed the way I am, there isn't a good chance of survival if I run towards the woods. My best option, if these men come to cause problems, was to get past them, out the small tent door, down to the bathhouse and lock myself in the shower room. Of course, I'd be barefooted and in almost no clothes, so unless they left pretty quickly or there was a ton of hot water available, I'd probably freeze. 

I'll be honest, the bears were such a long shot in terms of actually being a problem, that it was just something that played through my brain. The story about the men - who tried to enter our teammate's trailer and had to be chased off with the threat of gun fire - that was much more worrisome. Worrisome enough that I only slept lightly, keeping an awareness of the sounds, trying to catch footfalls coming toward the tent.

The next morning, I was talking about it with Hubby. Of course, he was in the same straights I was -- clothing and weapons wise. He'd heard the same story and the concern of folks not on the mission being in an area that was supposed to be empty. He went through almost the same thought processes as I did. 
"So what did you conclude? Did you have a plan?" I asked.
"I guess it would come down to who won the fight us or them."
So he had imagined how he'd have to spring from the sleeping bag (and we had to stay zipped against the cold). His conclusion, we didn't have a good shot at coming out of this okay. He hadn't considered getting to the showers but said that would have been a good route. 

We both decided that we'd make better weapons choices next time around. Live and learn and come out the otherside. It's all an adventure.

On the drive home, I thought about the significance of that last story one hears, the last odd concern that was expressed. It has the power to construct a new understanding of an otherwise okay situations. The storytelling becomes a warning that looms large when in a situation where the other person's story elements are lining up with yours. It's a great way to get to know a character or twist a plot.

I thought this was a pretty good thing to keep in mind as characters are sharing their stories with the others in a book. So I'm sharing my observation with you in case you're wondering just what your character would be thinking.

~And happy writing.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

What I Found When I Went on a Manhunt: Information for Writers.

Manhunting - sounds like something I did in my earlier days before I found Hubby. But that's not what I was up to this particular weekend. I took part in a three-day training in tracking humans.

So perhaps some plotting fodder if your character suddenly goes MIA in your storyline.

When your missing character is reported to 911, the police will come out and start to put the basic pieces of the puzzle together. 

The police are usually not trained in search and rescue techniques. This is a specialization, and it is performed by volunteers. Search and Rescue volunteers go through a great deal of training and practice because the skill sets need to be built upon and these skills are perishable - that is "use it or lose it." 

But within the search and rescue community there are specializations. 

  • If your missing character was in a plane they'll call CAP - Civil Air Patrol (my character Lexi Sobado in Missing Lynx depends on this training as she escapes the bad guys) 
  • The Coast Guard searches for people missing on waterways. 
  • If your character is in the mountains or treacherous terrain, they may need a technical crew.
  • There's the search and rescue people who do land navigation and terrain searches
  • Trackers - or manhunters follow human tracks to try to find the subject or at least give a direction of travel
  • Equine team
  • K-9  - is a broad group where the dogs train in their own specialization.

This particular weekend, I was training with Search and Rescue Tracking Institute. It was a three day hunt/training. 98 degree heat, high humidity, little to no breeze. If someone went missing in that kind of weather they would be in dire straits. The chances for heat stroke were high especially if they weren't properly equipped or didn't have a good water source.

Here are some myths that were debunked over the weekend:

  • You must wait 24 hours to report a missing adult. There are amber alerts for children, and silver alerts (for the elderly and those with dementia) but if your character is supposed to come home at six, and they aren't there, then her love interest calls honey bun's work, and they never showed up that day, there's no need to wait until 7:30 the next morning. Certainly, if they were supposed to exit a trail at 4pm and now it's dark, your character's BFF should be alerting the rangers ASAP.
  • You can't search at night. Actually, I thought it was much easier to search at night with a flashlight. The trail was much more obvious.
  • It's easier to search with the bright sunlight. The sun overhead made finding tracks really difficult. We'd use our hats to try to shade areas where we thought we might find a footprint. We'd also use our flashlights during the day to try to get the angle of the light to show the ridges in the footwear.
  • You can tell by the size of the shoe or the length of the gait how tall the person was, their sex, how heavy, that they were right handed. . .  You can't tell anything about the physical characteristics of a person from their shoe print. All you can say is, "that is a shoe print."
  • A tracker knows which shoe prints to follow. No, they don't. They need help. Did your hiker do the right thing and leave aluminum foil prints? (See video just below) Does the family know what kind of boots the hiker likes to wear? Did they run away barefooted? The tracker looks at ALL the tracks and tries to decide which is the most likely. As we passed people on the trails, we'd stop them and ask if they'd mind if we took a picture of their soles. This gave us a library of shoe prints that we could eliminate.

  • A tracker can tell how long ago a person walked down the path. Sometimes they can give it a good guess and sometimes they can't tell at all. As a matter of fact, I was testing my "aging" skills on Sunday next to a master tracker. There were five sets of tracks, each track was set up at a different time within 72 hours. What time was each track made? To be honest, there wasn't much of a difference at all between the five, and I was pulling random numbers from the air. I was glad to learn that I wasn't the only one thwarted by this task. The master tracker said he couldn't find the differences either. Weather conditions, sun exposure, and type of terrain all impact one's ability to make good judgment calls on whether this track was just laid or it had been there for days and days.
  • You can just send out a drone to search and area.  Drones are impractical in most wilderness search areas because of the tree canopy. Also, there are a TON of regulations which make it impractical in other areas, too, such as, you can't fly over anyone. They are coming up with regulations so searchers can eventually use them but that will be another specialty and require basically a pilot to work the apparatus. But for now, know that writing the use of drones for search and rescue in America would be writing it wrong.

One of the days we were tracking, they also had K-9 involved so the manhunters and the K-9 handlers could discuss ways the different teams could best work a task together. These particular K-9s were air scenters and HRD (human remains detection).

I wanted to see an HRD K-9 in action so his handler hid a tooth in the rocks at a campfire. Once he was in the area, the K-9 walked right over to the fire pit and looked like he was thinking about it, walked a circle around the pit once, then sat down right beside the tooth. It was invisible to the naked eye.

This is a picture of the handler giving the dog his green light to search the area as she released his leash. You can see right from the get-go that K-9's nose was pointing toward the fire pit. (far left of the photo).

And here he is getting his reward, which for this K-9 was high pitched vocal praise and lots of rubbing and petting.

Next, I got to be the lost person to show an air-scenting dog in action.

Can you see me in the log? I'm laying on my red poncho.  On this task the dog started, oh I'd say about a football field away. I thought that I'd have a chance to take a little nap. . . but in short order, I heard him coming toward me. 

Now, let me stop and tell you what this is like to be on your back without a visual field in the woods and have an animal coming at you at full speed. I knew it was a dog, but still everything in me said "stand up and get big." It was incredibly vulnerable feeling to hear the leaves crunch and the galloping feet. And then out of nowhere a furry face was peering down at me. He didn't stop and give me a lick or interact with me at all. He moved in for verification, and then took off again. I'm told that this interaction depends on the dog. The lab in their group likes to stay and get pet and give kisses before he goes to report his find. One thing I can say was that when I was found the K-9 radiated joy. His whole body felt like a great big "WHOOP! I win!"

This is a picture of the K-9 reporting back to his handler that he found someone.

After the K-9 brought his handler to me, he was rewarded with play; he got to have a tug of war with his ball. 

If your character goes missing because they were injured, lost, or abducted, Search and Rescue will work the case until your character is found. There's one open case in our area that the teams have been working for over five years. It bothers every one of the people on the team that they haven't been able to bring this person's remains home to their family. They keep sending teams out to look. So when you write your plot, even if the case goes cold, SAR will keep at it. But also, remember as you write that these are volunteers, and they show up as they can from their daily lives. 

Related article:
Heat Stroke info for writers an article by Patti Phillips HERE
Hug a Tree - surviving lost in the woods HERE
Cadaver dogs HERE

As always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you 
helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Cadaver Dogs: Information for Writers with Kate Flora

Today, I'd like to introduce you to Kate Flora. Award-winning
mystery and true crime writer Kate Flora is the author of 14 books, including the true crime story Death Dealer and the novel And Grant You Peace, both forthcoming in the fall of 2014. 

Her book Finding Amy (true crime), co-written with a Portland, Maine deputy police chief, was a 2007 Edgar Award nominee. Kate’s other titles include the Thea Kozak mysteries and the starred-review Joe Burgess police series, the third of which, Redemption, won the 2013 Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction.

A former assistant attorney general in the areas of battered children, deadbeat dads, and employment discrimination, Kate is a founding member the New England Crime Bake conference, a founder of Level Best Books where she worked as an editor and publisher for seven years and has served as international president of Sisters in Crime. When she’s not riding an ATV through the Canadian woods or hiding in a tick-infested field waiting to be found by search and rescue dogs as research
for her books, she can be found teaching writing at Grub Street in Boston.

Fiona -
Kate, you have an interest in cadaver dogs and have included them in the plot line of a few of your books. Can you tell me about your background with working dogs?

Kate - 
To be absolutely clear, I have no working dog myself. I got into the realm of search and rescue and cadaver dogs when I was helping a friend, who was a police captain, write about a murder he investigated. He wanted to tell a story, and I knew how to write. In that case, the victim was buried in the woods and the police couldn't find her. She was ultimately found when a Maine game warden decided he had to help out, and organized a search with SAR (search and rescue) personnel and trained cadaver dogs.

In order to write that story, I needed to know more about how cadaver dogs and handlers worked, and that meant watching them train. 

Fiona -
Can you tell us about your experience?

Kate - 
I started out like many people, thinking the handlers just ran the dogs through the woods. I was so wrong. 

It's years of training bringing those dogs along and getting them certified for the various search expertises. The most important thing I learned by watching the training, is that these handlers and their dogs are a genuine team--it is important for the handler to be able to read his or her dog and become attuned to the nuances of the dog's messages. It is also critical to learn to trust the dog and not override the dog's messages.

It is almost balletic, watching the synchronized actions of a good dog team. The handler can tell from the dog's body language, speed of movement, and even from the dog's breathing what the dog is discovering, when the dog has a scent, and when the dog is close to a find. And those dogs will work all day for the reward to playing with a ball or playing tug of war with rope.

Fiona - 
In search and rescue events that I've participated in the dog is on a 30 foot lead - this was a search for live people. Can you tell us what the dog wears on a search, the equipment involved, and what the handler wears?

Kate - 

In general, the dogs I've observed are not on a lead, unless the conditions--adjacent highway or other dangers--calls for it. These are primarily air scent dogs and to do their job, they need to be able to range some distance in order to try and pick up that scent cone.

Equipment varies, but in general they wear a vest, which helps to signal to the dog that he or she is going to work, and often a bell, which is especially helpful in thick brush or woodlands or during nighttime searches so the handle can keep track of the dog's location. Handlers say that they can tell when a dog is on a scent, and often when the dog has made a find, by the increasingly excited ringing of the bell. 

The handler? Again, this depends on the weather and the organization. If they are a uniformed searcher, it will be a uniform. Many of the volunteers also wear a shirt or something that indicated their affiliation. The other gear depends on the search--weather, time of day, time of year, the search parameters and how long a search team may be out to clear a block of land, whether there is an expectation that the person may be found alive. And there is always the dog's favored play object or food treat.

Fiona - 
These are mainly air scent dogs, which means that they keep their nose in the air. There are also dogs who prefer by nature to do ground scent, they are great for following trails. But you have also worked with water scent dogs - dogs who can find cadavers in bodies of water can you talk about that experience?

Kate - 
I haven't actually worked on a case where they used water scent dogs. I spent a couple of years with a retired Maine game warden who trained and ran cadaver dogs, and he has told me a lot. In the book we've just finished, there are some stories of dogs who have found bodies in the water. 

One interesting thing that the wardens say is that dogs can scent bodies in the water within a few hours of death, which I found amazing, and that many other branches of law enforcement are unaware of this as a resource and usually fail to employ it in search situations. 

There was a case recently in New Hampshire where a young girl disappeared and was found days later in a river. A water scent dog could probably have found her days earlier. The scent molecules released by the body travel through the water and can be scented by the dogs from the shore or from a boat. 

I've heard discussions about whether a dog could work from a plane but they've been inconclusive. One thing that's often missing from these discussions is that first the dog has to go through all of those other cadaver scent training, and then also has to be trained to be comfortable in a boat. 

And an aside, one of the differences between tracking dogs and air scent dogs is that tracking dogs are generally working from a known scent following a known person, while air scent dogs are often working away from the scene (which is often contaminated by the many people their and by fear scent, which is very powerful) and trying to find the scent in the air.

Fiona - 
What would surprise us most to learn about using a cadaver dog and are there any cool details a writer might include in their plot line?

Kate - 

Well, gee. In the first true crime I wrote, Finding Amy, the dog came to the scene and didn't first hit on the grave site where the victim was buried, but about ten or twelve feet away under some trees. Later, when the suspect confessed the crime to his mother, what he told her was that he had killed Amy and left her lying under those trees for a few days, and then gone back and buried her. The dog was reacting to that first scent pool where the body had been lying, and the dog's reaction was corroboration of the confession at trial. 

Other cool details? Well, because cadaver scent can move through the ground and into growing plants, you can often find an old burial through the scent that has become embedded in trees or shrubs.

Sometimes bears or other predators have been at the bodies and the dogs can find small bone fragments that are sufficient to show that there was a body. 

Find the guy, get to play!

The dogs can find burials that are 50 to 100 years old. Other cool things? Not so much about cadaver dogs, but dogs can also be trained to find find shell casings, shotgun wads, cigarette butts, all kinds of evidence that might have been discarded by the killer that a human searcher would never find in the woods.

Fiona - 
They can indeed find very cool things. On a personal note, my daughter has Type 1 diabetes. She has a medical alert dog who tells her when her blood sugar number goes over 180 or under 100. Those are very specific parameters. He is both a ground scenting dog (I trained him to find our family members so, for example, in the library when I can't find my son, I just tell our pup to "Find the boy," and pup follows the trail until we land on him) and an air scent-er. When pup is checking my daughter's blood numbers his nose will go in the air. When he does it repeatedly over a span of time, I know he's just waiting for it to hit the number that will get him his treat. Then he comes to alert.

Kate, thank you so much for sharing your experiences. Any last thoughts?

Kate - 
One thing I would add is that many of these events take place at night…and if the body was dumped at night, the wardens are looking at the environments, decided where someone might hide a body. 

Fiona - 
Can you talk more about that last bit?

Kate - 
Well, that last really goes much more to suspect behavior than to cadaver dogs, but that's something else there's some writing and thinking on. 

This is really in my game warden/outdoor search realm which is practically another interview. We think that searches are just a bunch of folks going out and walking through the woods--whether for a dead person or a live person, but in reality they are far more complicated and planning intensive than that. In Finding Amy, one of the most interesting moments is when the wardens come to interview the cops, to plan a search operation. Of course, we know that cops are territorial and certain, but this was the woods, which is warden territory. Wardens read the woods like cops read the streets. Hey…now that is a great line. Must remember it. Anyway, when they're dealing with a situations where someone may be hidden in the woods, they're looking for a million different things that brick and mortar cops might never think of. On another note, I forgot to mention that dogs are extremely good at finding weapons, so if the writer's bad guy has dumped his gun in the woods, human eyes might never find it, but a dog's nose will.

Fiona - 
Amen. Kate, please tell us about your favorite scar or your most harrowing story.

Kate - 
Well, my most harrowing experience was a hot air balloon crash…but let's talk about scars. I've never been in a gun fight, a knife fight, or any other kind of fight outside a courtroom, but I have a scar from back surgery that represents a fight with myself. After emergency surgery for a ruptured disk and having to give up running and skiing, I also had to fight my way back from the throes of "I'll never do anything again" into a braver world of taking different kinds of chances--chances with my writing, with stories I didn't know how to write, and ultimately, with other people's stories--co-writing a true crime with a police captain and working on a memoir with a Maine game warden who worked with search and rescue and cadaver dogs. Those books have taken me to some pretty interesting places.

Fiona - 
And could you tell us about some of your writing?

Kate - 

About Death Dealer:
When Miramichi resident Maria Tanasichuk’s husband David reports her missing, the local police force is perplexed: they have had a close relationship with the Tanasichuks and know David as a loving and supportive husband, yet his account of Maria’s disappearance contains disturbing inconsistencies. Through conversations with Maria’s many friends and loved ones in Miramichi’s small, close-knit community, the police soon discover that David has been using drugs heavily and Maria’s efforts to stop him have frayed the marriage. Witnesses report he has been selling Maria’s belongings to support his drug use, has been involved with another woman, and has engaged in suspicious, nighttime comings-and-goings. Further disclosures suggest that he played a role not only in Maria’s disappearance, but also in several unsolved murders.
The fact that they cannot locate Maria’s body -- combined with David’s clever, deceptive ways -- make it impossible for the Miramichi police to prove their suspicions. As signs that David may in fact be a dangerous killer mount, the police officers tracking him fear, rightly, that at any moment he could unleash his vengeful violence on their families. Only when they look across the border into Maine and enlist the help of the Maine Warden Service and trained cadaver dogs and dedicated handlers are Miramichi’s police officers able to undertake the long and grueling search for the evidence they need: Maria’s body.
New Horizon Press Books ISBN: 978-0-88282-476-5

About And Grant You Peace:

This 4th book in the Joe Burgess mystery series finds the Maine detective pulled into a case rife with religious tensions after screams for help lead him to a woman and a baby locked in a closet inside a burning mosque. The baby dies. The very young mother survives, but suffers from traumatic muteness. She has no ID, and no one has reported her missing. When the autopsy shows the baby was gravely ill, and needed surgery to survive, Burgess suspects someone was trying to keep mother and baby away from hospitals that might have asked questions.

The mosque’s Somali Imam claims to have no knowledge of the girl, or of who was responsible for scrawling anti-Muslim graffiti on the mosque’s walls. Burgess learns that the “Iron Angels,” an outlaw motorcycle gang led by William “The Butcher” Flaherty has been harassing the mosque’s members. Then someone tries to steal the baby’s body. Burgess has been hoping to regain a semblance of “normal family life,” but there, too, things are complicated. First, by the threat that his son will be suspended from school. Then by the chilling knowledge that his family is being stalked.

As Burgess tries to sort out the tangle of a suspicious and uncooperative immigrant community, an outlaw gang, and a mysterious man who may be involved with both, clues lead to another body, a stash of stolen guns and ultimately, a tense confrontation in which the staggering extent of death and destruction that’s been sowed in the name of greed is revealed.
Five Star/Cengage ISBN 978-1432829391

If you need more information about cadaver dogs, Kate suggests these references:

* Andrew Rebmann, Edward David & Marcella H. Sorg, Cadaver Dog Handbook: Forensic Training and Tactics for the Recovery of Human Remains

* American Rescue Dog Association Search and Rescue Dogs: Training the K-9 Hero

* Susannah Charleson, Scent of the Missing

* Cat Warren, What the Dog Knows

Fiona - 
Thanks Kate!

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Hug-a-Tree: Keeping Our Youngest Characters (and our real-life kiddos) Alive in the Woods with Jacquie Beveridge

Jimmy Beveridge

On Saturday, February 6, 1981, The Beveridge family was camping in San Diego County. The three Beveridge brothers set out on a foot race but only two arrived back at their camp. Nine-year-old Jimmy was missing. More than 600 people helped to search for Jimmy, including 200 marines.

Sadly, the weather was not with Jimmy, thick fog and torrential rains hampered the searchers efforts. On Thursday the 12th a man who knew the Beveridge family set out on his own to follow a hunch and found Jimmy's body.

Today on ThrillWriting, I have the great privilege of hosting Jimmy Beveridge's mother, Jacquie.

Now, I know that this is a writers' blog. But I have always felt that we fiction writers have a great opportunity to educate. By writing a scene correctly into a novel - a mother or father might learn something that could save their family from the devastation of losing a child. This is why I invited Jacquie to visit with us - so we can teach writers how to write it right and keep our youngest characters and our real-life kiddos safe.

Jacquie, I remember the search for your son: I was in high school at the time. Later, when I became a mother myself, I read that you had put together the Hug-a-Tree Program. Can I just tell you what an impact you had on me as a young mother. First, because you experienced such a heart wrenching loss; but second, because you acted to prevent that tragedy from happening to other families. My children were taught the Hug-a-Tree principles.

Jacquie reading her young son, Jimmy

Jacquie - Oh, Fiona.....I am so glad to hear this. Absolutely. I have to tell you that even while Jimmy was lost, I knew his life would make a difference for others.

Fiona -
And you have made sure that that premonition came true. - around the world - you will never know the number of families you protected.

The Hug-a -Tree Program is a national effort, how did you get the ball rolling?

Jacquie - 
As a direct result of Jimmy's death, the Hug-A-Tree and Survive Program was created to educate children in basic wilderness survival techniques.For many years the program was administered by myself and a woman named Jackie Heet, in San Diego, California. When I took a break, Ab Taylor (one of the founders) turned it over to National Association for Search and Rescue.

English: Two in one tree in Blean Woods This c...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fiona - 
Can you start in the beginning. Our characters - a typical family - are getting ready for an day in nature. What should they do prior to leaving their house?

Jacquie -
Safety begins with planning.

* An imprint of your child's shoe print should be made on a piece of aluminum foil. Place the foil on a folded
   towel and have the child walk onto the foil. Each shoe should be imprinted. The child's name can be
   written on the edge of the foil with a pencil. Then store the foil in a safe place. Having the imprint makes a
   huge difference if trackers need to do their job and look for  footprints.

Before setting off, remember to make a good impression.

Jacquie (cont.) - 
Before going out, parents should go over some simple reminders with their children:
* Have a whistle and plastic trash bag with you when you go out. 
   The whistle can be carried on a string around your neck. The bag
   can be folded and carried in your pocket. If you have a backpack,
   the bag can go in there, along with some water and
   nuts, granola, or power bars.
* In this day and age it's easy to snap a photo with your cell phone
   before children go out to hike or play. That way you know what 
   they are wearing and it makes a description easier.
* It's also a good idea to have a signal mirror with you.
* Before going out to hike or play always tell someone where you
   are going. And, then don't change your plan.
* Wear bright colored clothes
* If you should realize you're lost....stay put! Hug-A-Tree.
* Try to pick your tree near a clearing if possible.
* It's also good to pick a tree that has other trees around, especially
   if there is a storm.
* The tree is your friend! It will keep you company and provide
    some shelter. Hugging a tree and talking to it calms the child
    down and prevents panic. By staying in one place, the child is
    found much more quickly.
* It is also good to have a flashlight in the backpack. The LED ones
   now are very bright and small. One can be carried on the string
   with the whistle.

Using the Hug-a-Tree Program as a springboard, 
this is what the Quinn family does to prep the children for a day outdoors.

Fiona - 
The parents have put a whistle around their child's neck and put a trash bag in their pocket. Can you explain the importance of the trash bag?

Jacquie and her son Jeff demonstrating the trash bag
survival shelter

Jacquie - 
The trash bag can be used as emergency shelter. It will keep you dry and warm. The bag is important to prevent hypothermia. When people run in a panic, they often get hot and take their jacket off. If they do get hot, the arms of the jacket should be tied around their waist so it's handy later when it gets cold. When hypothermia sets in, people become confused and think they're
hot when they're really cold.

Jackie and Jeff
ALWAYS make a hole in the bag for your face, so you can see and breathe. But, not so big that your head sticks out. A lot of body heat is lost through the head.

Jeff , tucked safely into his shelter

It's good to show photos of a child with the bag on them. I sent you a photo of Jeffrey with my bag. The bag can be prepared ahead of time with the hole and tape around it to keep it from tearing further.

Fiona - 
We don't want to scare our kiddos - nature should be fun - but we do need them to be safe. What do you teach the children about the whistle?

Jacquie - 
* The whistle is much louder than your voice. When we do the
   program, we demo with a child from the audience who yells help 
   as loud as possible. After yelling about three times their voice gets
    raspy. Then we demo the use of the whistle which illustrates
    how much louder it is and doesn't take as much energy.
* We explain that it's good to blow in a sequence of three blasts.
    This is like an SOS signal.
* If you hear someone searching for you blow the whistle so they
   can determine the area the sound is coming from.
* Children also ask about wild animals. We tell them if you hear a
   sound blow your whistle! If it is an animal it will run away to
   protect itself. If it is a searcher they will hear you and come find

Fiona - 
Horribly, our character's child is lost. Lets talk about the search process. What should the child know and do?

Jacquie - 
* The child should also be instructed ahead of time how to make
   themselves BIG. By wearing bright colored clothes, especially a 
   light colored hat, they are easier to spot from the air.
* If they hear a helicopter they can go into the clearing near their
   tree and lie down on the ground so they are more visible to the 
* They can use a stick to make an arrow pointing to their tree or an
   X on the ground. Or use rocks to make an arrow or X. Anything
   that looks out of the norm will be easier to spot.
* Sometimes children ask if they should carry matches to start a
    fire. The answer is absolutely not! That is much too dangerous. if
    they have their trash bag to keep them warm they won't need a

Fiona - 
What are some of the issues that children have expressed during training?

Jacquie - 
* It's important for children to understand that their parents won't
   be mad at them if they get lost.
* And, the people looking for them are volunteers. Often children
    think their parents would never spend that much money on them 
    for a search.

Fiona - 
That's a very interesting point - I never thought about that. The child might think that the parent would not search for them, and that it is up to that child to get herself back safely?

Jacquie - 
Yes! One was overheard in the area of the search for Jimmy saying, "my parents would never spend the money for this on me." That's why it's very important for them to know that the searchers are volunteers who care about them and their family.

Fiona - 
English: Mounted search and rescue training of...
English: Mounted search and rescue training of rider, horse, and dogs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
What are some of normal behaviors by a lost person?

Jacquie - 
Lost person behavior has shown that people tend to run uphill thinking they can see better. This just gets them farther from where they were last seen and tires them out.

Also, children have hidden from searchers thinking they are strangers.
Often, nowadays, the child has a secret word than can be used so they know the searcher is not a "stranger."

Fiona - 
Yes, we used "butterflies" as our secret call word.

Jacquie - 
One of our presenters was on a search and kept sensing a movement behind him. This happened several times. Finally he turned quickly and caught a glimpse of the child he was looking for diving under a bush. He asked the child if he was Johnny. The child said, yes. The searcher said," I've been calling your name and trying to find you. Why are you hiding?" The child said, "I thought you were a stranger."

If a parent can't find their child, at what point should they seek help? Who should they call? And what are the key pieces of information the parent can give (let's pretend they stopped for a picnic so mom did not take she impressions but she never let the kids out in any kind of nature without the whistle and bag).

Jacquie -
As soon as the parent thinks the child is lost the sheriff should be notified. Even if the child gets back before the sheriff arrives, they will be happy that a search wasn't necessary.
* A parent should provide a physical description of the child and
   what they were wearing.
* If there is a secret word, the parent should share it with the

Fiona - 
What should a parent expect to happen after the phone call goes out, and the child is not found. Let's say the sun is going down for the evening.and the sheriff is on scene

A search and rescue dog training event. Breed ...
A search and rescue dog training event. Breed pictured unknown. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Jacquie - 
It can take time for the searchers to respond. Many are volunteers and may not be close by.
The parent(s) need to remain calm. As hard as that is, and provide as much information as possible.
Stay at the campsite/picnic site so they are available.

Once a search team is assembled, they will head out, even in the dark. Depending on conditions they may have a helicopter available too.

Fiona - 
And what are the professionals doing? Did they have someone assigned to your family to keep you informed and give you support?

Jacquie - 
Nowadays many departments have a TIP (Trauma Intervention Program) with volunteers to stay with a family during a time such as this. We did not have such a thing available at the time. A friend of ours came and stayed with us and helped entertain Jeffrey.

Fiona - 
Is there an arc of hope? By that I mean - obviously based on weather and environment -- at what point do things start becoming critical.

Jacquie - 
It depends on the weather, of course. If it's very cold and the child is not prepared with trash bag, hypothermia can set in quickly.

If it's hot, water is a concern.

Amazingly children have been found after a search of several days.

Jeffrey's Godfather was lost during the search for Jimmy. He was bull-headed and determined to find him on his own. Now, mind you, this was a police captain with military experience. Unfortunately, his common sense went out the window.

Fiona - 
Of course it did!

Jacquie - 
He was found after four days. He had cuts and scratches. He was dehydrated and had diarrhea from eating acorns. Thankfully, he survived.

Depending on weather conditions, a person can survive 3-5 days without water. Doctors say that a person can go up to eight weeks without food.....if they have water. Of course for a child it would be much less just because of their size.

Fiona - 
One question that comes to mind - the trash bag will protect until what temp? How cold could the night get and the child come through?

Jacquie -
The trash bag can protect even to a freezing temperature, if the person has the majority of their body covered. We have the child sit next to the tree and cover as much of their body as possible.

Fiona - 
Writers if you want more information, here's the LINK to NASAR and the Hug-A-Tree Program

And if your character and her children headed out for some fun in nature - here is a quick video to explain how they can stay safe. Great information for your real children to watch, too.

Fiona (cont.)
Now my last question - It is a tradition on Thrillwriting to ask the story behind your favorite scar.

Jacquie - 
My favorite scar.......hmmmmm. I guess it's the star shaped one on my right forehead. It was acquired on a trip to Puerto Vallarta when I had a margarita that was evidently spiked with something very strong. I got sick from it and cracked my head on the sink in the bathroom. The trip to the doctor for stitches was quite an experience. At least he spoke English. The scar is a reminder to drink things that come in bottles that I open when I'm in a foreign country.

Fiona - 
Thank you, Jacquie - for all you've done and do for our children. 

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Medevac Helicopters: When Your Heroine's Life Is On the Line



An Iceland Coast Guard (Islenska Landhelgisgae...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Recently I had the opportunity to meet a helicopter rescue team from Virginia Commonwealth University Health Systems. What a fascinating job!

It was a nighttime landing at a church parking lot. The helicopter circled to come in with the wind direction. I was ready for wind - I was not ready for the gale that swallowed me. Debris flew by, and I ended up ducking between cars for safety.

Helicopter with patient
Helicopter with patient (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
* On the VCU Health Systems team,
    rescuers work four
   days a month: two twenty-four-
   hour days and two eight-hour days.
* The teams from V.C.U. work as a
   group of three to include:
   1. The pilot - who knows nothing
       about the patient in order to maintain his
       focus on piloting safely.
   2. A medevac nurse
   3. A flight paramedic
* Team members are rotated so that:
   1. they are used to working with everyone from
       their location
   2. to avoid complacence
   3. to avoid bad habits.
* Surprisingly, most of their work is not flying crash victims to the hospital.
   Most of their work involves moving patients from smaller hospitals, where the
   equipment, medication, or expertise is lacking, to a larger
   hospital which is better positioned to handle the medical crisis.
* Getting a patient into the right environment within a 1-3 hour window creates a significantly higher
   survivability rate.
* The VCU team flies up to Maryland, Washington D.C., down to North Carolina,
   and west to Virginia Tech. While many of the large universities have their own flight evac teams
   and their own hospitals that they represent, on this level there is a great deal of comradery, reciprocity,
   and shared resources. The teams will transport for each other depending on availability and location.

Video Quick Study (6:00) Excellent overview of a simulated rescue moving a patient from a lower level
hospital to a trauma center. In this video:
* The average take off time for this team is 6 minutes
* They like the team to touch the helicopter in 90 seconds
* As they are flying in the hospital is gearing up. They can be in surgery cutting into the patient
   within 3 minutes of landing.

Video Quick Study (4:00) Response to a car accident with head trauma.
Video Quick Study (11:00)  GRAPHIC IN NATURE - please consider your tolerance. A soldier with a
                              brain trauma is being treated on the flight. This is NOT A SIMULATION. You may
                              want to mute the music to focus on the organization of the medical equipment and the
                              medical interventions that are being performed on the floor of the helicopter.

This job is considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States. 

One of the bad thing that can happen is called: Flicker Vertigo
* Is not caused by inner ear issues like normal vertigo - it is a visual issue
* Causes queasiness and confusion
* Can effect the patient as well as the pilot. This is particularly concerning where a patient
   has a history of motion sickness or epilepsy.
* Full face visors work like sunglasses to protect against this.

PDF resource that is much more thorough
Video Quick Study (0:23) experience flicker vertigo

Another big danger happens in landing around power lines.
* Lines are difficult to see especially at night. (Which you can easily see in my video above)
* The helicopters are equipped with hooks that would trap and cut the line to protect the helicopter
   and the rescue workers.

Video Quick Study (3:00) Skip right to the 2:10 mark. Helicopters and power lines are a bad combo.

If you are writing a flight evac scene, you will need to make a lot of decision, just like real-life rescuers do.

What about the weather?
* Before any information about the patient or the situation is offered, the weather is checked.
* It is important that a safe decision is made based on data alone, without figuring in the heroics of the rescue
* Once the weather is determined to be safe, then other decisions are considered.

Is the woman pregnant and is it possible that she will go into labor?
English: Close up of the belly of a pregnant w...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
* From the position of the gurney on the helicopter, the
   rescue team does NOT have access to the lower half
   of the patient's body.
* A woman in labor is a no-go on the helicopter

Will the patient fit?
* The space is limited.
* These  rescue workers have had a patient
   with an enormous girth before. They had to lubricate
   him in order to squeeze him in to the cramped space - it
   makes for an uncomfortable ride, and it ups the danger quotient.

* A helicopter can only carry so much weight.
* The flight crews weight is documented and put into a mathematical calculation as is the weight of the
   passenger they are going to pick up.
* Jet fuel weighs about 7 lbs per gallon. The pilot calculates for distance. It takes 1.1 gallons of fuel
   per minute of flight. They are flying at 120-140 nautical miles per hour. A nautical mile is 20%
   longer than a regular mile - so this is equivalent to about 188 mph. The pilot indicated that this was the
   speed of a NASCAR driver on a medium track. Of course they are moving in linearly, unlike a car,
   so the distance is shorter. (And how much does that fuel at 1 gallon per 1.1 second cost? As of the writing
   of this post it was $4.90 per gallon tp $6.50 depending on contracts. YIPES! That's an expensive
   rescue!) At any rate, the pilot is calculating whether or not he can hold enough fuel for the distance of the

Once the patient is stabilized, packaged, and loaded:

The  nurse and flight paramedic have all of the resources of an emergency room to include:
* Respiration apparatus
* Defibrillators
* Medications
* Wound dressing



* The helicopter has two engines
* The blades move at 450 mph which about six times per second.
* The blades can flex downward which is a decapitation hazard.
* To approach safely only do so from the front.
* If you are positioned to the rear of the helicopter make a large arc to the front
* Get permission to approach by signaling the pilot either by radio or hand signal of your intention and wait
    for a thumbs up.  

Video Quick Study (2:05) approach


Helicopter parking sign on ground of the forme...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
*Are one of the most dangerous places at a hospital.
* Nurses, technicians, and maintenance workers are
   all trained to minimize risk - but we all know in
   an emergency sometimes our bodies just act. This
   is the wrong place for that to happen.
* Hospitals have a dedicated elevator ONLY for
    medevac rescue.

Video Quick Study (1:00) Medevac helicopter landing
                                           on a hospital roof heliport.

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

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