Book review: Lost Person Behavior: A Search and Rescue Guide on Where to Look – for Land, Air and Water

By Randy Klaassen, Member of Civil Air Rescue Emergency Services, Niagara


“Lost Person Behavior” contains extensive research into investigation and psychology of missing persons. As a 2008 publication it is current research on search and rescue (SAR).While data is drawn mainly from American sources, there is a wide international scope, including contributions from Canadians Daryl Black (SAR Manager, Edmonton Regional SAR), Ed Cornell (University of Alberta), Ken Hill (Nova Scotia Emergency Measures Organization), Jim McAllister (British Columbia Provincial Emergency Program), Edwina Podemski (Alpine Club of Canada) and Sergeant Don Webster (SAR Coordinator, Ontario Provincial Police). I first heard about the book from Don Webster at CASARA Ontario Training Officer’s Conference, in April 2011.


The author defines his purpose “To help searchers look in the right place to find lost subjects faster.” (Preface, p. xiii). To this end the thesis moves toward defining “Probability of Area” (Chapter 9).

The spiral binding speaks of the intention to be used as a reference guide. Yet information by itself is of little value unless the user understands the background, hence the caution of just jumping to a few pages of interest. The reader needs to understand how the tables of information were conceived.

The author provides good information on the history of SAR research and strategy. The heart of the book is chapter 8 “Subject Categories” where specific types of lost persons are profiled along with suggested initial tactics and investigative questions. Also of special interest is Chapter 6, “Lost Person Myths and Legends.”

In consideration that CASARA search operations involve Search Object Information (SOI) of people flying to a location for reasons in addition to the joy of flying, the subject categories are a rich resource of investigative information. Particular interest to CASARA members will be the subject category on “Aircraft” (p. 99-105), yet this does devalue the importance of all the other categories.

“Ultimately, lost person behavior can only provide probabilities, not certainties.” (p. 69). In the author’s “Final Thoughts” he states: “Search planning is more of an art than a science. The best SAR practitioners are well aware of what science has to offer, but experience and aptitude make up the critical components of the art of search planning. It is impossible to ever truly master search planning, and learning is always possible.” (p. 326).


The author says, “… the book will be most effectively used by persons trained and experienced in search planning and management.” (Preface p. xv) The specific question I was asked is “Should each CASARA Unit have a copy of ‘Lost Person Behavior’”? I recommend “Lost Person Behavior” be purchased for CASARA Ontario Units for two reasons:

  1. The author did the research and wrote the book out of experience of doing SAR operations, which is to say his theory is drawn from experience first, and science second.
  2. Because of the nature of its content “Lost Person Behavior” will serve as an enduring resource for local search coordinators and make good background reading for all CASARA members.

Red Deer CASARA Assists with High River Flood Clean-up

Tuesday, 9 July 2013, 3 aircraft departed Red Deer for High River with a total of 11 people on board, 8 of which were CASARA members. We had arranged for transportation from the airport to the town site upon our arrival. We had been warned about the sights we were about to see. When we stepped out of our cars, the first thing that hit us was the smell. The smell of must, mold, wet, and most of all, rotting food from all the freezers and fridges that had been left when the power went out was overpowering.


High River disaster management had a Team Leader/liaison person set up to guide us around to our worksites.

Our first task was to assist an elderly couple load their household/life time possessions,  into a large dumpster.  The devastated owners were mentally incapable of doing anything. After that we went from door to door helping where we could. It was a huge shock looking down the streets of a new neighborhood, and seeing the entire contents of someone’s household, many of whom were elderly and retired, piled at the curbs (see pictures.) Once you “looked past” the piles of stuff, the houses looked very normal – UNTIL you went inside. In most cases the drywall and total contents were soaked from about 3 feet up the main floor wall, down and basements had been totally filled with water destroying everything. Must and mold were taking over and running ramped.  In many cases, new homes will have to be bulldozed and hauled away.


In many cases elderly people just sat on chairs, starring at the garage floor, or driveway, totally bewildered at what had happened to them. For many of them, their lifetime sat in huge piles in front of them, rotting.

When we arrived at our staging area we were greeted and provided with all the necessary gear to protect us from bugs, mold, mud etc, they asked us where we were from. We told them that we were with CASARA and had flown in from Red Deer, a big cheer went up. One of the most moving things was that wherever we went, people would come out and thank us for coming. I have never been thanked so many times, by so many people in such a short time, in all my life.

CASARA members contributed a total of 88 volunteer hours, the costs associated with this effort for the flight down and back were donated by the involved members.

Story submitted by: Jim Thoreson, Red Deer CASARA


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