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Control measure

Profiling a missing person

Control measure knowledge

Ordinarily, the fire and rescue service will be requested by the police to assist in searching for a missing person, taking information and guidance to assist incident commanders in deploying personnel effectively.

Fire and rescue services should determine the potential for their involvement in searching for a missing person. They should also identify the likelihood for them to be the only Category 1 organisation at the scene for a prolonged period, resulting in the need to commence search activities without guidance and assistance from the police.

If the fire and rescue service are first on scene, it may be beneficial for personnel to gain an understanding of the potential behaviour of a missing person. Consideration should be given to developing an aide memoire for this purpose. Alternatively, information may be available from other agencies or the responsible person at the scene.

Having this information will assist with risk assessment and co-ordinating a search plan. Personnel should use this information to improve their search activity; it may influence and prioritise the places to search, and the speed at which this will need to be carried out.

The police may use profiling to determine the expected behaviour of a missing person, which can assist with providing a more accurate prediction of their location. However, according to The Centre for Search Research, some of the commonly expected behaviours of different groups include:

Young children:

  • May be unaware of the concept of being lost
  • Are likely to wander aimlessly
  • May not respond to calls or sounds intended to locate them
  • Tend to find shelter or a place to sleep, for example under vegetation, vehicles or picnic tables

Children 3 to 6 years old:

  • Are likely to attempt to return to a familiar place, but may not take the most obvious track; they may take shortcuts that are not apparent to adults
  • Are likely to be found in habitation, buildings, shelter or open ground

Children 7 to 12 years old:

  • Can construct primitive mental maps of their surrounding areas, which may be inaccurate
  • May become frustrated and irrational in their actions, especially if they have become lost while taking a shortcut in a familiar location
  • In panic could run along trails and end up some distance from the last known position (LKP)
  • Are often found in habitation, buildings, shelter or on roadways

Young adult 13 to 15 years:

  • Navigational and directional skills are much more developed
  • Frequently become lost in groups while engaged in exploring or adventure activity
  • Rarely travel far in groups and will usually respond to calls and whistles
  • May try to look for a familiar place or landmark
  • May panic and resort to irrational tactics to locate themselves
  • May be found in habitation, buildings, shelter or woodland

Despondent people:

  • May not intend to travel far, but are looking for a place where they can be alone and possibly contemplate suicide
  • Are likely to be located at the interface of two types of terrain or vegetation boundary
  • May head for:
    • Vantage points overlooking scenery or civilisation
    • Places they are familiar with, either due to an emotional connection or frequently visited
    • Favourite walks or tracks
  • May be found in dense vegetation
  • Rarely respond to calls and whistles; they may hide from or evade those searching for them
  • Have an extremely high fatality rate, with drugs, alcohol or both being frequently involved

A person with psychological Illness:

  • Maybe evasive and run away or hide
  • May have behaviours associated with taking medication, or lack of it
  • May be frightened of authority and of being found, which may result in aggression
  • May have unpredictable behaviours

People suffering from dementia:

  • May have mobility issues as well as poor memory
  • May not cry for help or respond to calls or whistles
  • May become dehydrated or suffer from hypothermia
  • May remove items of clothing
  • May be found close to the initial planning point (IPP)
  • Many have been found a short distance from roads and to travel to a place that is previously unknown to them.

Strategic actions

Fire and rescue services should:
  • Consider establishing memoranda of understanding for searches at incidents

  • Provide access to suitable navigation aids to personnel

  • Identify the likelihood and level of potential involvement in a search for missing person

  • Consider the need for a suitable aide-memoire for lost person behaviour

Tactical actions

Incident commanders should:
  • Liaise with other agencies on-scene to gather information about the missing person

  • Gather and share information with personnel about the potential behaviour, condition and location of the missing person

  • Ensure personnel look for signs of aggression or irrational behaviour in the missing person and understand the need to approach them with caution

  • Be prepared to follow police guidance and procedures when assisting them in searching for a missing person