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'We have to have a plan': New and old searchers on P.E.I. take part in major mock operation

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Prince Edward Island’s Ground Search and Rescue (P.E.I. GSAR) tested out some new equipment and learned new search management roles in a major mock operation Saturday.

It started first thing in the morning at a marsh conservation park in Stratford.

“You got to keep our skills up,” said P.E.I. GSAR President George Williams. “It’s not just our ability to search for subjects and the clues they leave behind, such as footprints, but it’s also important for our planners.”

“We have a command post where our planners go in and they have to figure out the appropriate areas we want to search. We just don’t go off willy-nilly into the woods. We have to have a plan.”

The planning component is particularly important for this exercise. It’s a brand new team, just back from a five-day course on advanced management techniques they’ll be putting to use Saturday.

“How do you look for searching data, planning data?” said search manager Frances Gertsch. “How do you use statistical and theoretical searching information to really hone on where the subject probably is?”

It’s not just the team that’s new -- PEI GSAR is also putting their new Geographic Information System through its paces.

“So we’ve been able to get that set up over the last two years,” said Gertsch. “We’re testing out the ability to track, use field maps, collect clues from the field, and send them back through cell networks to our command post so they can use it for search planning.”

Field roles are getting a workout too. This is the first time out for some of the searchers, putting the skills they’ve been learning to the test.

“They have to learn basic skills on how to move and carry goods in the woods. They have to know how to dress and what to bring with them, have to know how to navigate with a map and compass, said Williams. “They have to have their first aid training as well, and we teach them basic searcher skills on what to look for and how you search for a subject.”

The subject is an actor hiding out in the park, safe with the support of some GSAR members.

The skills the new members learn here and the experienced members sharpen up are going to serve them well the next time they’re called to an actual emergency.

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