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.