Doug Goodman

Texas Horror Writer. Cadaver Dog Handler.

Doug's Blog

SAR Tracking Seminar

Posted by douggoodman on May 14, 2012 at 2:30 PM Comments comments (0)

Is there anything as fun as crawling through the mud on your hands and knees while searching for footprints?  (Of course not!)  I got to spend most of this past weekend (thanks to my wonderful and accepting wife, Mrs. Bad Ass) at a man-tracking seminar in Alvin, Texas.  The weather was accommodating and the instructor was the vivacious Mr. Fernando Moreira.  Fernando has been man-tracking bad guys and lost people since before I was born, so he had a lot of great instruction to bring our SAR team. 


Fernando Moreira squatting next to the
curb while he describes
how to collect information from a print


How wonderful was my weekend?  Look at this picture of my boots and knee pads.  Can't see the knee pads?  I can't see how.  I already had knocked some of the mud off them...



One of the biggest things that I took from this seminar was the similarities in tactics between man-tracking and human remains work.  Obviously, you are looking for something that is not there.  (As my son would say, Duh, Dad!)  But in both disciplines, the key is observation.  I like to tell people that SAR work for me is staring at a dog's butt all day.  The handler has to be able to read his dog, so he is looking for the subtle and not-so-subtle signs that the dog is on trail, off trail, or doing something else.  With man-tracking, the tracker is again looking for subtle and not-so subtle signs laid on the ground, in the bushes, or sometimes even higher.  The key difference is that a handler acts as an interpreter, whereas the tracker is directly examining the evidence. 


Directly Examining Evidence (I should note that we did
not "lift" the footprint - this is an example of what Houston
clay can do after a night of rain and a day of heat -
and it was not the footprint we were tracking)

Another similarity between disciplines was the solution to lost tracks/scent.  For a tracker, you go back to the last good clue.  Several times this past weekend, we would find one print, then lose the next one, so we would have to go back to that last print and check the measurements to see where the next one should be.  I say should be because strides can change depending on terrain, weather, etc.  For the dog handler, the same technique is used if a dog seems off scent.  The handler guides the dog back to the last place it had scent and commands the dog to search again from there.


So did we learn all the cool stuff that you see in movies like the ability to tell if somebody is sick, tall, short, carrying something, etc.  Even in a basic course, we learned how to do some of it.  I impressed myself after following some of his tracks I asked Fernando if he favored one leg over the other, and he said yes.  He had been shot during the Portuguese War back in the seventies.  (Told you he had been tracking for a long time.) 


Fernando said several times that everything can be read from a person's tracks.  "It's all there right on the ground."  After a weekend of training with him, I can say that I learned more about tracking than I thought was possible, and I feel like a whole new world has been opened up to the SAR team.  And you know what?  Yeah.  It was all there right on the ground.  I just had to stop and look at it.


Before these footprints were painted,
I couldn't see them

My Name Is Mud

Posted by douggoodman on March 12, 2011 at 8:35 PM Comments comments (0)

I have been training for the SARTech II field exam.  The SAR team has graciously been working with me so that I have some practice on some of the field tests before the exam.  Last week one member gave a great ropes course presentation.  (I hope I can remember the difference between bights and bends.)  Up today - Land Nav.


It was swampy and muddy, and my boots were completely submerged in water up over the Gore-Tex.  At one point, I was crawling through the underbrush.  Along with several cuts and scrapes, I now have an abrasion on my left cheek (not that cheek) that makes me look kind of like Tommy Flanagan.  Soon after finding the first post, one of the field advisors warned everyone that there were feral hogs roaming the training grounds.  And somewhere along the way I lost the walking stick SARTechs are required to carry in their packs.  So all in all, it was a great morning!


Seriously, it felt great to be out on the land nav course.  Land Navigation is one of the hardest challenges I think any search and rescue technician faces.  The goal is to navigate through a wilderness area using only a compass to guide you.  I remember the first time I tried this - I had no problems getting through the course.  Of course, I was minus a 50-lb backpack and I was trying to keep my paces.  There was also this thing called "no pressure."  Once you add the gear, the pressure, and the pace-keeping, it becomes much more difficult.


However, to me what land nav really tests is bushwhacking skills.  Can you crawl through underbrush while keeping paces?  Can you push through briars and thorn bushes thicker than walls?  (A good whacking stick can help.)  Can you get a reading off your compass while surrounded by a swarm of mosquitoes and while standing in a foot of water?  I have found some techniques that help.


1.  Know your eye dominance.  Most people are eye-dominant on the same side as their handedness.  Not me.  I may be a righty, but I see with my left eye.  It helps to know this because otherwise I would look out my right eye, then start walking towards the left.  So I swerve away from the path.


2. Keep it simple.  The less objects in hands and pockets, the better.  I have foregone gloves, which would reduce the cuts and scrapes on my hands, but I am a complete butterfingers when I am wearing my gloves.  What I find works is to clear everything from my pockets except what is essential for the test - a small pad of paper, a pace counter, a compass, and a pen.  The pad, compass, and pen are in one pocket; the counter in the other.  This never changes so I know where to look for my equipment.


3.  Keep the compass out!.  I have a tendency to put the compass away.  I think this makes me swerve off the path.  It also means I add steps to my procedure.  I have to put up one thing, pull out the compass, take the reading, then put the compass up.  It's much easier to just leave it out so that it is ready for a reading at any time.  By keeping the compass out, I also can see direction changes much better.


Now, will any of this experience serve me at the SARTech II exam?  I have no idea.  I guess I will know in a few weeks time.  Until then, it is just fun to be in the outdoors in Houston while the weather is nice.  In a month or two, the heat will be intolerable and land nav will be next to impossible.

Jesus is My Incident Commander

Posted by douggoodman on January 24, 2011 at 5:05 AM Comments comments (0)

During my off-hours this week, I took two FEMA courses for Incident Command, which equates to ~16 hours of training. I finished the training Saturday, and Sunday morning I went to church, where the Deacon was talking about the disciples. Specifically, the deacon said that the first thing Jesus did was find his disciples. And me, in my “Incident Command” mindset, instantly thought “Demobilization!” As soon as God had his first resource, he was already thinking of demobilizing it!


Well, the way my mind can take the ball and run with it, I couldn’t just stop there. So instead, still in church, I am already thinking that maybe ICS could have helped Jesus. With ICS, he would have known that span of control should not exceed seven people. jesus had 13. And what happened when his span of control got too out of control? It backfired on him! Is there a chance ICS could have saved Jesus from being crucified? Maybe not, but letting span of control get out of hand will crucify the incident commander. That much the training has taught me.


In ICS-400, we learned that there can be a higher power than incident command. It is called area command. Area command has supreme authority over everything. It can also be unified. Well, this clarifies the holy trinity! It’s unified area command with God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost all wrapped into one! Who needs priests to clarify the holy mysteries when FEMA can do it for you?


A key requirement of area command, as everyone who takes ICS 400 learns, is the written delegation of authority. This is the buy-in that gives area command its power. In Christianity, this delegation of authority is called The Bible. Who is in charge? “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” You can’t write a better authority than that!


Clearly, I have had too much training. The good news is that with completion of ICS-400, there are currently no other courses I am required to take. So hopefully, the next time I am listening to the homily, I will spend less time blaspheming my religion and incident command and spend more time paying attention. I know he said something about nets, boats, and fathers. This wasn’t a coast guard reference, was it…?

Packing the Urban SAR Pack

Posted by douggoodman on January 16, 2011 at 2:45 PM Comments comments (0)

I have written a few blog entries on SAR gear. This one covers one of the lesser-known pieces of SAR gear, the urban SAR pack.


My search team will be doing a mock search exercise in early February, and one of the requirements was that each participating member must bring at least an urban SAR pack. To say I was giddy with the chance to prepare my urban SAR pack is to understate it. I have become a pack nerd. Or as Ralphie from “A Christmas Story” would have said it, “my old man is a pack junkie. A bona fide pack-icanus freak.” That’s me.


Like many pack-icanus freaks, I asked for a backpack for Christmas. I was already looking towards preparing my own urban SAR pack. I knew I wanted a Camelbak. Many of my friends have used them before, and I have one I used to use when running (read: walking with a little jogging) ultras. But that pack was way too small for an urban SAR pack, so I asked my wife to get me something like a MULE or a Rim Runner. I didn’t tell her, but secretly, I have wanted a MULE for years now. Some kids want puppies, others ask Santa for ponies. Me, I hoped to see a mule under the Christmas tree, and I got it!


I brought the MULE out to only one previous training, and it was perfect. Lightweight, with 3 liters of water, and four storage compartments (more on that later). The MULE is designed for breath-ability along the back, which can never be underestimated when working in the summer in the South. I loved it.


What To Put In The Urban SAR Pack

NASAR provides a list for the urban SAR pack, which is kind of a “SAR pack” lite. Take away the first aid kit, the ropes, the tarp, and the basic survival gear (e.g., fire starters, cups, carabineers, etc.), and that is what you are left with. Here is a pic of my almost-complete Camelbak:


I tried the MULE on after I finished. Man, is that thing light. Especially when compared to my NorthFace Terra 60. Great pack, but it can be heavy when fully loaded. The tricky part about packing the urban SAR pack is including the walking stick, which is used for mantracking. The stick is way too long to realistically put in the bag. (TWSS.) So I hooked the walking stick to one of the Camelbak’s loops using a carabineer, which is required on the larger pack.


Note: I used my SAR pack as a template for my urban pack. . Both packs have a similar structure (minus side pockets), so having similar items in similar places makes it easier to remember where things are located.


Top Storage

Usually, I like to place in the top storage unit items that I am most likely to need. In my SAR pack, they are a pair of worn working gloves. The urban pack does not require gloves. However, as an HRD handler, I decided it best to place some disposable gloves here. Also, I included my Buff (which replaces the bandana). The last thing that goes in here is an inventory list, with any additional materials noted on the list.



Small Storage

So in here went a bunch of little things that are required in the pack like pad, pencil, SAR ID, compass, and flagging tape. I also added my counter to keep track of pace counts. In the corner you can see dog bags, a necessity for canine handlers.

Open Storage

What to put in a big open storage area that is unprotected by the elements? Why not the rain jacket?



Large Storage

There are not many things left that are required in the urban pack. Instead, I placed in here items from the ten essentials for every backpack. Why these items are not included in the urban pack, I do not know, but I don’t want to go on a search without them. So my pack has a snack (chips, which also make great firestarter), two firestarter sources (flint and matches), duck tape, a whistle (unseen) and a space blanket. For good measure (again, for HRD work), I placed a respirator mask at the bottom of the pack. I hope I don’t ever need to break into the large storage container, but if I do, I am prepared…


So there it is: the complete urban pack, at least as I see it. There are basically three kinds of items: items required by NASAR, items from the ten essentials list, and HRD equipment.  It is going to be fun testing this equipment in a few weeks. Can’t wait!