A new method makes it faster to search for missing persons

Niklas Meltio
This summer, the Voluntary Rescue Service is going to introduce a new search method, the search patrol.
Image: Niklas Meltio

July is often the busiest time for Voluntary Rescue Service, i.e. Vapepa, to search for missing persons, as the number of those who get lost or go missing increases during summertime. This summer, Vapepa is using a new search method which helps setting search missions in motion more quickly than before.

As the weather gets warmer and people move from familiar surroundings to leisure locations, the number of those who get lost increases. In has been noted by the Voluntary Rescue Service that the number of calls for rescuing missing persons increases as the berry and mushroom picking season begins.

For example, the scorching July of last year was the busiest month for search missions of the year for the rescue teams of Vapepa: during this time, volunteers took part in a total of 28 search missions around Finland, approximately ten searches more than the monthly average.

Setting search missions in motion with a smaller number of people

This summer, the Voluntary Rescue Service is about to introduce a new search method, the search patrol. The method is based on patrols of three, each of which is assigned a search area, i.e. a segment.

‘The new method allows us to search through a large area quickly with a smaller number of people than previously’, says Preparedness Coordinator Heikki Väätämöinen of the Red Cross. ‘The method is used when a search is urgent.’ A new search patrol can be mobilised once three people have been summoned.

The Vapepa leader in charge of volunteers on a search mission selects the used search method together with the police, for example according to the terrain, the number of searchers and the presumed condition of the person who is being searched for. The Vapepa volunteers have been trained to utilise a number of different search methods. In the most frequently used method of search based on visual impression, the searchers move alongside one another in a chain formation in which there are a maximum of ten people in a line.

In many areas, experiences of the new method are still being sought. The method, which originally came to Finland through Lapland, has been introduced, for example to the Oulu region, Southern Ostrobothnia and Central Finland.

‘Of course, it would be for the best if people avoided getting lost altogether. It is therefore recommended for people to take a map and a compass with themselves, keep their mobile phones fully loaded and pack at least a whistle, matches, a first aid kit and a water bottle when heading off to an unfamiliar terrain’, hints Väätämöinen. ‘If the person notices that he or she has gotten lost, it is a good idea to stop right away to wait for rescuers instead of continuing to move forth at random.

Vapepa participates in search missions four times a week on average

The rescue teams of the Voluntary Rescue Service help the authorities by participating in the search missions for around 200 missing persons annually. On average, this means nearly four searches each week. Vapepa is a network of 50 organisations and around 20,000 volunteers operating all over Finland with trained rescue teams that support authorities in situations that demand a large number of helpers. The Red Cross coordinates the operations of the network.