How a Call-Out Works
Call Any Time - As we’ve been updating and streamlining the callout system, we’ve discovered that many people don’t know how a callout flows; that is, what happens before, during and after a callout. Here’s a rundown. This is not meant to be a how-to guide, but just a description of a callout for those who have never seen it from end to end.
Events Leading Up - Not every missing person automatically results in a SAR callout. There’s a number of safeguards and checks that go on first.
- "I think my friend’s lost." The first alarm comes from the reporting party (RP), who may be a friend, relative, employer, or acquaintance. Often they wait for hours before calling while they do their own search for the lost person. When they do decide to call for help (usually about dark!), they call 911, or they tell a camp host, or they flag down a forest ranger.
- "9-1-1. What’s your emergency?" When Central Dispatch, the County’s radio dispatching and 911 center, gets a call from the RP (or from another agency such as the Forest Service), the call taker in Central interviews the RP over the phone to see if this is an ordinary missing person, a runaway, or a true SAR.
- "12 Adam, copy a possible SAR." If it’s a true SAR and there’s a SAR Coordinator on duty, and they’re available, Central Dispatch sends him or her to the incident. As often as not, though, they have to send a patrol deputy. The patrol deputy drives to the scene, meets the RP and confirms this is a real SAR. He or she may search obvious places, or perhaps Forest Service personnel have started their own search. If nothing turns up, the patrol deputy calls Central Dispatch for a SAR Coordinator.
- "Hello, Scott? Sorry to wake you but...": Once the request is OK’d by the duty sergeant, Central radios, phones, or pages a SAR Coordinator. If no one is on duty, they’ll phone one at home (Coordinators love it when this happens). The Coordinator must get the facts, decide what resources are needed, where the Command Post (CP) will be, and other things. He has several options, depending on what he’s learned from the patrol deputy, the urgency, and other factors:
- May drive to scene and interview RP before starting a callout.
- May start a callout immediately and meet the searchers at the scene.
- May set up command center in the OES office.
- May call in another SAR Coordinator to share duties.
The Callout Begins - Less than half of the SAR calls that the Sheriff’s Department receives ever become callouts. Either it never really was a SAR, or the person gets found (by the patrol deputy or the Forest Service), or the person walks out. So, if there’s actually a callout, we’re pretty sure it’s serious. Here’s how the callout goes.
- "Hello, Betty? I know its 2 a.m. but...": The SAR Coordinator pages or phones a callout team member (CTM). Often unseen but vitally important, the CTM is a key person in the callout process. The CTM takes down all the information from the Coordinator over the phone, including the nature of incident (search, technical rescue, body recovery, etc), the specialties needed, the meeting place and time, and directions if necessary. The next thing the CTM must do is translate the Coordinator’s directions into something Joe Searcher (who may have never been there before) can follow, even at 2 a.m. With road maps, USFS maps, and even topographic maps spread all over the kitchen table, this may take a few minutes.
- "This is a callout...": Once the CTM has assembled the directions and all the other information into a coherent whole, he or she phones the hotline and records the callout message we all hear when we dial 621-6555.
- "Hello, Linda? Got a search. Can you call your people?" Once the Hotline is taken care of, the CTM starts paging and calling the key people in every team. Some teams (like Mounted) have a few who call the whole team, while larger teams (like Sierra West) have up to a dozen block leaders who in turn page and call five or six other people. The CTM knows who to call because he or she has copies of every team’s callout list. The callout list shows all the search-ready people, their phone numbers (up to the three each) and their specialties.
- "Who moved the door?!" The block leader (after stumbling around the bedroom looking for the door) finally staggers into the kitchen and calls the Hotline for the details. Then he or she gets out the team’s callout list and starts paging and phoning the handful of people assigned to him.
The block leader’s callout duties are done when he or she has either called all the numbers of all his people, or has actually spoken to them. Block leaders are (ahem!) supposed to leave messages on answering machines.
- "Honey, your pager. Honey, wake up." If everything goes according to plan and the lost subject stays lost, phones and pagers all over the County are now going off. Searchers are donning uniforms, carrying gear out to the car, and driving off into the darkness.
There’s no question that it’s a sacrifice, but most searchers do it over and over again, willingly. More than one father or mother has said how reassured they’ve been by the stream of headlights coming up the road, and have seen all the people who are willing to come and search any time, anywhere.
Sept 1998 Lost & Found Newsletter