I'm sure I'm not the only one here who has been fascinated with the details of Brennan's survival. The way this case turned out is just great. But in just surfing around the net and listening to the news, one thing that has me puzzled is that I've seen very little in actual analysis of the SAR operation. The basic premise being reported everywhere is that the SAR was a success and that therefore everything was done right. While it is true that these guys did an AMAZING job, I think it would be unfortunate if an opportunity to analyze this boy's backcountry behavior was missed. Namely, he apparently repeatedly hid from rescuers and acted contrary to what a missing 11-year-old is supposed to do. He moved away from camp and uphill and was trying to remain hidden from rescuers until one just happened upon him. In many respects, it reminds me of a case in NH's White Mountains a year and a half ago where a 10-year-old boy expired and was found uphill and far from his place last seen. In the second case, the boy's family has still not accepted the official conclusion that the boy simply got lost and died of hypothermia.
I hope the SAR community can look at these and other cases and perhaps adjust their thinking when dealing with lost children in this particular age group. In a weird way, it might have taken a success to realize improper assumptions about the behavior lost 10-12 year old kids. I don't have any great answers, but think that perhaps dabbling with heat-sensing technology and broadening the starting perimeter in such cases might be worth looking into. We now KNOW that in least this one case that flooding the woods with volunteers was a little scary for this one kid. Are there others who have expired with the same mindset?
When I was an active member of SAR, we had our share of searches for children and went through trainings that discussed the methods for searching for them. But every kid acts differently and not always with what we would think to be in their best interests (e.g. his hiding from searchers).
It is true that most kids will hide. A lot will hole up somewhere and can be invisible even if just a few feet from a well-trod path. Others will move, such as this kid. These two tactics make finding the subject that much more difficult. Adults (presumably) know better and will (1) stay put and wait to be found and (2) respond when called for, or if they should see the searchers first, come to them. We were told, and the actions of this kid seem to support the claim, that little kids will hide because of the fear of being approached by strangers as well as of their overall fear/terror of being lost. Imagine your fear and rising panic should you get lost as an adult, and magnify that for a small child. One can't blame them for acting as they do, even if it makes the search much more difficult as a result. It's tempting to say to yourself that 'what a dumb kid- if he'd just stayed in one place and not hid from the searchers, he'd have been found sooner'. But he's not an adult, he's a kid. He did what any scared kid would have done.
From a search standpoint, the usual MO is to flood the potential area with as many volunteers as possible, as early as possible. Get hasty teams together to run trails, jeeps/horses to check roads and perimeters and helicopters to look from above. Literally flush the subject out with huge numbers. If he's scared, so be it; he's found and that's what matters.
They most definitely will review this search and its techniques. Even though the subject did not follow common logic, he ultimately was found and as a result, it's a successful search. Frankly, one element of any search is luck. Good training and smart management will increase your odds of success, but you still need to be in the right place at the right time, ultimately.
I also think that the SAR community might be able to learn a thing or two from the law enforcement community. By this I mean that SAR tends to focus exclusively on 'hunting' for the victim through mobile tactics operating under the general assumption that the victim wants to be found .. whether 6 years old or 60. Law enforcement on the other hand is quite adept at looking for folks who DON'T want to be found. As a result, they (we) use a combination of 'hunting' and 'fishing' techniques. Everyone has heard of the old-fashioned 'stake-out.' Well, let's apply this mentality to SAR and establish (in certain child cases) listening posts in various strategic locations where the searcher stays put. This personnel could be placed at regular intervals just off trail as well near obvious geographic features that might attract someone lost in the woods. If the kid wanders by, bingo.
Like Scott said, kids will not act uniformly in these kinds of situations, so clearly, employing a variety of tactics is the best way to go.
I will preface this by saying that the comments below are based on news and net accounts of the incident, but as a trained Scout leader, several things bother me about the whole incident.
1. If he was really a Cub Scout, he had no business being on a climbing facility at a Scout camp.
2. Similarly, Cub Scouts are supposed to be under direct adult supervision at all times. Granted, the leader looked away momentarily and he had wandered off before the leader turned back, but by rules, there should have been TWO leaders present, not one.
3. In any Scout activity, the "buddy system" applies. Even at familiar camps, we insist that boys (I'm talking 11-to-17-year-old Scouts here, not Cubs) go as buddy teams, never alone. We drill that into them very early on and reiterate it constantly while they are Scouts.
Some other things nag at me as a parent, as well.
1. Being unwilling to talk to strangers in general is a good thing, but if his parents imprinted that so strongly on him that he was unwilling to ask for help and even ran away from potential rescuers when he knew he was lost, his parents did him a great disservice.
2. (This is both a "parent" and a "Scout" issue.) The first thing you teach kids is that if they get lost, they STOP and stay put. Do NOT go wandering around aimlessly or you make the SAR effort infinitely harder.
3. In general (there are exceptions), you should be taught to head DOWNHILL, not up, if you get lost. Theory is, you will be approaching larger trails, roads and civilization instead of leaving them. (This may be a midwestern bias but it applies in most mountain regions, as well. Think about it...you almost always approach camp from a lower elevation, not from above.)
A lot of us said prayers of thanks when he was found alive and in reasonably good shape. Those of us who deal with boys and (relative) wilderness areas on a regular basis did some soul-searching in the process and asked outselves again whether we had instilled the correct training on the kids under our supervision. I certainly hope even the youngest Scouts in our Troop would react correctly if they became separated from the group and lost somewhere.
Blogs and Jokes Light Up in Wake of Brennan's Story
June 24 2005, 7:05 AM
The four day search for 11-year-old Brennan Hawkins in the Unita Mountains has a lot of people scratching their heads.
Thousands of people joined the search after Brennan separated from his companion at a climbing wall and got disoriented on a well worn trail back to his campsite at the East Fork of the Bear River Scout Reservation and wound up climbing (rather than going lower) 400 feet and five miles up steep trail over a ridge. Searchers concentrated their efforts farther downstream which was swollen from the huge snows this winter.
Although rescuers came close to Brennan he did not answer them because he had been told not to talk to strangers.
Forrest Nunley who was not part of the organized search party played a hunch and drove higher up the ridge — thinking Brennan may have been afraid of the river — when he found him cold and wet. Nunley summoned Brennan’s uncle who had just passed on horseback while he went back down to get EMT’s.
Brennan has told authorities he drank from the river but had no other food. He slept at night (with temps in the 50s) by pulling his sweatshirt over him.
One report indicated the Scouts were reconsidering that Scouts spent a night alone as part of the the wilderness survival merit badge requirements.
Blogs have been lighting up on the strange culture of Utah’s missing in light of the 2002 Elizabeth Smart kidnapping as well as on comments by Brennan’s mother that he was a little slow because he was prematurely born. And there were lots of comments that all sensational missing cases are “attractive white people” prompting a Jay Leno joke — “that’s why nobody is looking for Dick Cheney.”
KAMAS, UT — Boy Scout Brennan Hawkins, 11, who received national media coverage after he wandered off during his troop's June camping trip in the Utah mountains, was awarded a merit badge for publicity Monday. "Brennan was successfully mentioned on every major network during all news cycles, and succeeded in increasing public perception of both himself and the Boy Scouts," said Scout leader Troy Feyton. "I am proud to award him this rare merit badge, and pray he returns to us safe and sound once he has completed the talk-show circuit." Feyton confirmed that Boy Scout officials have revoked Hawkins' navigation, orienteering, and wilderness-survival merit badges.
The Great Salt Lake Council of the Boy Scouts, one of the nation's largest, is going to use radio transmitters for some of its boys in the outdoors, to help prevent future kids being lost.
The scout council, the same one the lost scout who was found in the Uintas belongs to, got donations from people and has purchased 200 nickel-sized receivers and has 4 transmitters.
The range of these is apparently as much as 100 miles.
I guess it will be an experiment at this point to see how it works.
I'm not sure how Scouts will carry the receivers, though.