Search And Rescue
The intrusion of unauthorized personnel into a search-and-rescue operation can steal precious minutes and take the eyes of rescuers off the main goal – to save lives. “When a person is lost or endangered, seconds can mean the difference between life and death,” says Chief Mark Hopkins, Greater Philadelphia Search and Rescue (GPSAR). “That’s why the use of ID cards is so important for scene safety and identification.”
“Fortunately, I can recall only two situations when someone misrepresented themselves as a member of our team,” Hopkins adds. “The one that stands out was at a search for a missing autistic boy when a woman put on colors that matched our uniform and outfitted her dog appropriately. In the confusion, she disappeared into the woods. There is always the possibility of something of this nature happening during the chaos of a large operation, but the ID system helps to reduce the possibility of someone going undetected. I have found that having the IDs displayed prominently makes other agencies take notice and pay attention to the lack of an ID on someone.”
The GPSAR is a non-profit organization that relies on 40 dedicated volunteers to respond to search requests in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Founded in 1979, GPSAR volunteers are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, engaging in rescue operations in the wilderness or urban areas, in caves or on ice, in water or in collapsed structures. Their mission is to respond so “That Others May Live.”
Identifying authorized individuals on the scene of a search-and-rescue is important. Up until 2006, GPSAR had been issuing ID cards printed on glossy photo paper and laminating them one at a time. Because the ID cards used in search-and-rescue operations are often exposed to the elements, including icy water, they must be durable. Administrators wanted something more long-lasting and more professional than their handmade cards.
Being familiar with card printers from Fargo Electronics, Eden Praire, Minn., Hopkins asked one of his officers to contact the company. Hopkins chose the Fargo Persona C30 Card Printer, based on his need for support, reliability and available supplies.
The machine is designed so that the ribbon cartridge also contains the card cleaning roller, thus simplifying the cleaning process. This was an important consideration for GPSAR. “Choosing a new printer involved matching the product with our needs and budget and also the price of the consumables,” Hopkins says. Consumables include ribbons, blank cards and overlaminate materials.
ID cards are typically printed from a laptop computer in the GPSAR office. They are double-sided, combining graphics with photos. “Eventually we’ll have different IDs for people based on their status within the team. The obvious choice is different colored cards. Right now, we have it broken down with a simple title above the name for clarification. We also are working on equipment tags,” Hopkins says.
GPSAR is also going to produce tags for its rescue dogs. Dogs play a large part in many rescue operations, using their keen sense of smell to follow the scent of a missing person. Introducing distracting scents from other dogs can severely inhibit the work of the rescue animals.
“Our animal partners play an incredible role in our team,” Hopkins says. “The mere presence of a professional looking handler and canine helps to comfort the family of a missing person in many cases. The animals help us by dramatically narrowing the area and covering more area faster. While they don’t eliminate the need for other tactics, they supplement them nicely. Identification of these animals is important so we can see their qualifications at a glance.”
“We have had problems in the past with unauthorized people on the scene of a search,” says Jennifer Christian, GPSAR team secretary. “We can now make ID cards on the spot, if necessary.”