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by the NFCC

Control measure

Co-ordinated search plan: Water rescue

Control measure knowledge

Hasty search

An initial search is carried out by personnel deployed quickly along a designated search area. During the search, they may identify areas where a casualty could have become trapped or where a more detailed search is needed, including strainers, islands and egress points. Points of interest should be identified for a subsequent more detailed search. Any points which require a more detailed search and any hazards identified should be recorded and communicated to the incident commander and through them to the police search adviser (PolSA), so more resources can be sent.

Secondary search

Once the initial or ‘hasty search’ has been completed, a more detailed methodical search should be completed, focusing on any identified areas of interest. Bank searches are often faster and lower risk but can be limited by restricted visibility. The bank from which the search is being conducted may be obscured by vegetation, or the slope of the bank and it may be necessary to deploy people to the opposite bank. Using in water and on water personnel may aid searching.

The ability of a casualty to self-rescue will affect the probability of locating a casualty in certain areas; for example, an unconscious casualty is more likely to remain in the middle of a river and unless caught by a water feature or obstruction travel a greater distance than a casualty who is conscious, uninjured and who can swim. This information should be gathered and considered during the development of a search plan, although it should also be acknowledged that even a strong swimmer may tire quickly or become unconscious.

Submerged casualties

Fire and rescue services may not have sub-surface recovery or search techniques available to them. Police services are responsible for sub-surface casualty recovery.

Information gathered during the initial response to an incident should be shared with oncoming resources to help limit the search area.

Where services have methods of performing sub-surface searches they should consider water flow and conditions as well as the point and means of entry. Most casualties who are submerged remain within a short distance of the point of entry; if sub-surface searching is required this area should be the main focus in the early stages of the search.

Strategic actions

Fire and rescue services should:
  • Liaise with local authorities or emergency planning groups to develop multi-agency arrangements for search procedures

Tactical actions

Incident commanders should:
  • Identify the casualty's level of consciousness and offer reassurance where possible

  • Establish casualty details (name, age, sex, size, clothing, state of mind, swimmer, floating, sub-surface)

  • Consider mobilising appropriate resources to close off the search area