Search Areas

The Search Area is an area which encompasses the entire search and rescue effort.  This includes all areas which are searched or intended to be searched.  It does not necessarily include areas through which resources travel for logistics purposes, such as deployment routes for searchers.  There are several methods for determining the search area.


The theoretical search area is a circle drawn around the Initial Planning Point (IPP), with a radius equal to the maximum distance the subject could have traveled in the time allotted.  If a subject is lost in rugged terrain he may have been able to hike only 2 miles per hour.  If that subject has been lost for 24 hours, the maximum distance traveled is,

 \( 2 \frac{miles}{hour} \times 24 hours = 48 miles. \)

Thus, for the scenario of a subject who can travel 2 mph and is missing for 24 hours, the search area would be 48 miles in radius, or 96 miles in diameter. Searching an area this large would be a daunting task.  If we assume the subject spent half of that time resting, we would have a search area 48 miles in diameter, which is slightly better, but still a very large search area. 


The statistical search area is a circle drawn around the IPP for which there is historical data to suggest there is some probability of the subject being within.  This data can be obtained from sources such as the Syrotuck or the more recent, and extensive, Koester books.  The best data, statistical or otherwise, is locally gathered, so start a database of search results if you haven't already.  Statistical areas are often described by there probability.  As an example, a "25% area" would be the area within which 25% of subjects are found.  The map below shows the statistical areas for a Dementia subject in temperate, mountainous terrain from the data in Koester's book:

Map courtesy Mission Manager, Map Data © 2012 Google, Terms

Subjective, Reasoned, Deductive

There are many terms for the types of search areas actually used in search planning.  They often start with a theoretical or statistical search area, and are then decreased in size based on logical assumptions.  Taking the geographic region in the map above as an example, the statistical search areas for a dementia subject may be reasonable.  If,  however, our subject were a lost adult hiker, it would be unreasonable for him to cross the highway.  Based on this, it may be reasonable to remove the area east of the highway from our search area.

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