LORTON, VA, October 2015 – In a first-ever training event involving seven law enforcement agencies in the National Capital Region (NCR), Mission Manager was put to the ultimate test as officials compared the incident management software with traditional paper methodologies during a mock search for a missing family at NCR SAREX.
Sponsored by the Fairfax County Police Department, the multi-jurisdictional Search-and-Rescue Exercise, or SAREX, was held Oct. 16-17 at the Mason Neck State Park that is bordered by the Potomac River, Occoquan River and neighboring communities in Lorton, Va.
It was a grueling 36-hour exercise that involved approximately 80 participants from the Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC region. The event attracted law enforcement officers from agencies including Fairfax County, Loudoun County, Prince William County and Montgomery County, Md. Also on hand were the Marine Patrol, Air Assets and numerous volunteer SAR groups – including several K9 and equestrian teams that are long-time users of Mission Manager.
The organizers’ primary goal was to bring all search resources together and hone their collective skills in this multi-operational exercise involving multiple jurisdictions. At the same time, they wanted to see how Mission Manager performed compared to the traditional paper-based method of organizing and tracking search teams.
In this exciting competition, automation clearly won over paper, according to Andy Young, Mission Manager subject matter expert and a director of Parthenon Technology Consultants LLC, in Sterling, Va.
“Everyone we talked to – from the teams on the front lines to the search managers – gave Mission Manager a big thumbs up,” said Young. “They were particularly impressed with how it simplified the process of checking in-and-out members, performing accurate PAR [Personal Accountability Report] checks, organizing teams, and tracking all the search elements on mission maps.”
The mission was based on a scenario involving a mother and two sons who went missing while hiking in the park. The children’s father searches for them in the woods late at night, and also finds himself lost. Then, an 80-year-old Alzheimer’s patient self-deploys after learning of the incident on TV, and becomes lost herself.
The idea was to see how Mission Manager and search managers performed without any pre-planning. Prior to the mission, they were given a GPS coordinate of the command post and a flyer describing the training goals and resource types.
The paper-based crew coordinated the mission inside a huge command vehicle and a communications truck, which were parked about 30 feet apart. Andy Young and his crew sat at a table just outside the command bus, running Mission Manager on his laptop. A second computer was set up inside the command bus for the planning section, and a third in the communications truck for operations.
Moving between the three stations, he demonstrated how easy it was to check-in the participants, set up team assignments and run the mission in the field with a click of a button. Meanwhile, the paper-based crew scrambled to write all the information on paper – running back-and-forth between the trailers to share information.
“Mission Manager automated the entire process,” he said. “Setting up the team assignments was incredibly fast.”
The mission began with a hasty search – a quick search with K9 teams mostly on defined trails – then transitioned into a wide area search that spanned 5 square miles. The U.S. National Grid (USNG), which is the standard geo-referencing tool for land SAR missions, was used to track and pinpoint the location of the subjects.
Mission Manager’s mapping layers, including USNG and U.S. Geological Survey Topo Maps, were used to define all the search areas. Mission Manager also tracked and recorded all events from the radio logs, including the participants’ actions, locations and clues found (such as candy, a black jacket and lunch leftovers.) With geo-location codes, all this information appeared instantly on the mission maps.
“People were particularly impressed with the COMMS log [radio log] because it told the entire story,” Young said, noting that the recorded information also simplified the process of producing after action reviews.
During the exercise, three of the four missing family members were found alive and well; one of the sons had drowned in the river. With the help of air assets, the search parties also found the Alzheimer’s patient who was equipped with Project LifeSaver receivers/transmitters.
Fortunately, all these victims were role-players. But as it turned out, the training exercise evolved into a real-world SAR mission. Search teams involved in the exercise also found real people who were lost in the area.
“It was an exhilarating, rewarding experience to take part in this exercise,” said Young. “It was also a ground-breaking event for agencies and volunteers in the National Capitol Region, who gained the skills and knowledge that will help ensure well-coordinated search efforts in the future.”
For more details about the event, read article that appeared in WTOP – Washington’s Top News – by Mike Murillo: “Fairfax search drill hopes to better prepare officials.”
ABOUT MISSION MANAGER
Mission Manager provides cloud-based software designed to help save lives and property by enabling first responders to operate more efficiently and effectively. Mission Manager’s team member and asset management capabilities, combined with its calendar and communication functions, allows users to enhance team readiness through optimized training and seamlessly integrate mission-specific operations during real-time events. Over the past three years, Mission Manager has supported approximately 6,000 actual missions ranging from single-person rescues to large public events and full-scale natural disaster response. Mission Manager is currently used in all 50 U.S. states, and on every continent except Antarctica. Truly a global tool, Mission Manager is available in 80 languages.