A Pragmatic Approach to Applied Search Theory

Guy Mansfield PhD, Joe Carlson BA, Danny Merrifield MS, Eric Rosenberg BA, Erik Swanson BA, Peter Templin BS

Washington State SAR Planning Unit


Email: jgmansfield@msn.com



The Washington State SAR Planning Unit (SSPU) was activated in 2018 to provide advanced search planning resources to regional incident commands during extended or complex search missions. The SSPU operates under the auspices of the Washington State Emergency Management Division, and comprises experienced SAR volunteers with specialized training in search management and planning. In addition to providing search planning strategies and technical mapping, one of the primary objectives of the SSPU is to apply modern search theory to challenging search incidents. Our application of search theory can be parsed into three related planning tasks: (1) Characterizing initial search regions and segments; (2) Assessing search effectiveness; and (3) Prioritizing search assignments for subsequent operational periods. A major challenge faced in achieving these objectives is that the SSPU can be requested by any of the 39 counties in Washington State, all with different search planning approaches, different search data collection practices, and different experience with the principles of modern search theory. For this reason, the SSPU has developed a pragmatic approach to applied search theory that can be characterized in one phrase: “When objective data are available, use it according to search theory best practices; when only subjective input is available, at least be systematic”.

KEY WORDS: Search theory, search planning.

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