Search and rescue is more usually associated with wild country and rough seas, so it may come as a surprise to know that Cambridgeshire has its own highly-trained service that work alongside the police to find missing persons.
Fast, accurate map reading is vital and this voluntary service has been able to equip its team with the very latest in GPS mapping, tracking and navigation technology with the support of ViewRanger, also based in Cambridgeshire.
The Cambridgeshire Search and Rescue (CamSAR) team all have other day jobs and may be called out at any time to co-ordinate a search, which could be for a girl not returned after a night out or an elderly man confused by dementia. Many places are not reachable by vehicle and the teams search on foot, mountain bike or by boat, so access to detailed maps of specific areas is essential.
Deputy Unit Commander Wayne Bent explains; “Traditionally we have used paper maps, but we help police and ambulance crews across a wide area so during an emergency callout it is difficult to ensure all the volunteers have the maps they require. However, most of the team now have their own smartphones so with the ViewRanger app it is possible for them to have all the mapping they might require downloaded on to their phones ready for use.
“It is the role of the Search Manager to co-ordinate all the resources available and provide scenario based planning, dividing the area into high, medium and low probability sectors based on previous missing persons behaviour. All the information coming back from the teams is collated and I liaise with other agencies such as police, RAF Search and Rescue, and other partner agencies to ensure that no stone is left unturned during a search.”
ViewRanger is used extensively by Mountain and Lowland Rescue Teams in all kinds of planning, search, rescue and training situations. The search manager is able to circulate rendezvous points as coordinates for rescuers to follow using the GPS navigation. The location of individual rescuers can also be seen at all times by the Search Manager using BuddyBeacon – ViewRanger's location sharing feature – which allows team members and search dogs to be accurately tracked and viewed live by a search coordinator on a smartphone, tablet, or the web.
Craig Wareham, ViewRanger's Co-Founder, set up the company to create outdoor mapping and navigation software for the smartphone market. The ViewRanger app has since become Europe’s leading outdoor navigation app for smartphones and tablets and is used and trusted by outdoor enthusiasts worldwide.
Craig explains that the ViewRanger VSAR (Voluntary Search and Rescue) Program – which donates detailed Ordnance Survey mapping (the app is free) to team members of accredited search and rescue teams – first began with Mountain Rescue teams in England and Wales. It has since expanded across the UK, Canada and the USA, including Lowland, coastal rescue, and search dog teams too.
“Our VSAR Program started as a simple way in which we, as outdoor enthusiasts, could give something back to those volunteers and professionals who go out in all weathers and situations to aid those in distress,” said Craig. “The ViewRanger VSAR Program now supports over 100 teams across the UK, Ireland, Canada and USA, and it is particularly pleasing to support our local team, CamSAR, and the excellent work they do.”
CamSAR Technician Steve Tibbs is one of the volunteer crew. Previously a gunner in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force for 14 years, and a trained medic and Physical Training Instructor, he had been looking for something that would put his skills to good use.
“I joined CamSAR in March 2009, and I get a lot out of the training. I have developed additional skills required to join the Mountain Bike Unit within the team and specialise in fast route and path searches, scouting terrain and identifying search areas and boundaries.
“I enjoy training others in the team and it gives me a great sense of achievement knowing that I am doing something that gives great comfort to the families of missing people, as well as providing a vital service to the police and community.”
CamSAR is a registered charity and so relies entirely on donations from the public and local businesses and receives no government funding. All donations and money raised go directly to the running of the team. CamSAR is accredited to the Association of Lowland Search and Rescue (ALSAR).
CamSAR and ViewRanger's work together has even attracted the attention of BBC 4Tech - BBC Arabic's technology programme. This report by 4Tech was filmed in Ely in December 2013. See from 10:25!
(in Arabic only, unfortunately).