Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Being LOST Is a Science. How to write it right: Information for Writers and Other Curious Folks.

Christmas morning, Hubby and I got a search and rescue call out. A family put their mom in bed at ten o'clock. When they went to wake her at six, she was gone. This is exactly what happened in my novel Relic.

“Good morning!”

Brian turned his head to see Joe heading across the side yard with his arm raised in a wave. Joe stopped when he was standing on the driveway. 
Brian turned back to see SWAT stacking up at Kay’s front door with a breacher in front. Second one in was a guy looking through the window of his ballistics shield with a can in his hand. Brian was assuming it was smoke and not flashbang, since there were kids in the house. 

Brian made his way calmly toward Joe and put his hand on his shoulder. “Go home.”

“I’m so sorry to bother you. Have you seen my dad?”

“Go home.” Brian turned Joe and gave him a push in the right direction.

Joe turned back, his brow scrunched together in confusion. “I know we’ve been a pain. But I can’t find my dad. I put him to bed last night after you guys brought him back. I went to find out why he was sleeping so late and—”

There was a bang as the breacher crashed his tactical ram into the door, breaking the lock’s hold, splintering the wood.

Yelling filled the air as the SWAT team shouted their orders. It was always hard to listen to terrified children shrieking “Mommy!” Brian hated the fear in the kids’ voices, no matter what language they were screaming. Brian twisted Joe’s wrist, locking his elbow out, forcing him to the ground behind Sophia’s van. He flopped on the ground beside Joe, hoping Sophia had followed his instructions and was keeping her head down. “FBI SWAT are across the street. We’re going to stay down in case anyone feels like being stupid and starts firing a weapon.”

This fictitious scene (Okay, minus the SWAT mission) happens around the globe as those with dementia and other cognitive and processing disorders leave the safety of their homes.

For those who are known to wander, there are devices that the family can use to help track them. Those devices will be the subject of another article. But devices are not failsafe. The subject who was missing on Christmas morning had an ankle tracker, but the batteries were uncharged. It didn't work.

Searchers from all over the state, trackers, K-9, and ground teams (the people who walk the area) were all on hand. All of the search is scientific. 

In this article, I want to talk to you about the statistics of being lost. Your character will act in a statistically predictable way. And if you're trying to figure out where your character would go and if they were in a survivable situation, I have a short cut for you. 

I'm going to pause here and remind you that if this information is available to us, it's also available to any villains you're writing into the scene.

There's an app at the app store that costs around ten dollars called LOST PERSON BEHAVIOR. It's based on Search and Rescue statistics and is geared for use by the first responder community. 
  • It's easy to use
  • It functions no matter where your character is as it's not dependent on a wifi connection. 
  • You can assign this to your character's phone -- perhaps they find it in the appstore in an emergency, or you can just use it for your research to tell you what the scientifically predictable behavior will be. 
    • Where will they be found
    • How long can they statistically survive
  • Once you know the statistics and trajectories you can write your characters movements right. This includes giving them a background, known to others or known just to your character and the reader that can help move the plot along or twist your plot viciously. Maybe everyone thought the character had X skills and predicted that they would go in A direction. In reality, your character lied about their skills and thus did B.
When you use the app:

You will find three categories:
  1. Subject Category Wizard
    1. aircraft
    2. abduction
    3. water
    4. wheel/motorized
    5. mental state
      1. autism
      2. dementia
      3. despondent
      4. intellectual disability
      5. mental illness
      6. substance intoxication
    6. child (broken down into age ranges)
    7. outdoor activity - 13 activities from worker to caver to abandoned vehicle
    8. snow activity
  2. Browse Subject category
    1. external forces
    2. water
    3. wheel/motorized
    4. mental state
    5. child 
    6. outdoor activity
    7. snow activity
  3. Bike Wheel Model - which describes what a search and rescue persons will do to start the search. From there, you can decide whether the professionals' plans will be effective or if you're going to stick your character someplace else.
Once you are at the profile There will be a TACTICAL BRIEF -  basically where the subject is most likely to be found. For example in "current water" there are suggestions like
  •  looking in the bends of the waterway. 
  • Floating bodies are affected by wind, consider leeway. 
  • Strainers and undercut rock are a high probability. 
These might tell you how which direction your plot will head.

Then there will be a DESCRIPTION giving more information about the subjects possible choices, and resulting location.

I find this absolutely fascinating. When I'm called out for a search, there are several things I do before I leave home. For example: I check the weather (the weather before the incident makes a difference in tracking. Also, I need to know how to dress during the possible search time, and also so I have the right equipment, including first aid if I was on the find team.) I also check my LOST PERSON BEHAVIOR app for the circumstances that I will be searching so that while I search for any clues in general, I am also cognisant of specific probable places that I might make a find.

In the example that we started with - the Christmas day search for a subject with dementia, some things that the app tells me:
  • They go until they get "stuck" that means I crawl through brambles and tangles of debris in case someone made their way into the center and got stuck in there. My focus in the woods will be brush, thick areas, and drainage ditches (where they might have gotten into a drainage, but it became too steep to get back out.
  • I also know from the app that because subjects with dementia have a narrow field of vision, they usually go in a straight line. So if I can get a track, I will search forward of it, looking for a place where they might get caught and not be able to continue forward. "They go until they get 'stuck.' Appear to lack the ability to turn around and may ping-pong  off some barrier."
Yup, tons of plotting fun to be had with this app if you're writing a missing person into your plot and want to write it right.


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