As I type this, two hundred searchers are looking for little nine-year-old Ida Rothschild who vanished yesterday while camping with her parents in Samuel P. Taylor Park. This is a heavily wooded area up in Marin County where searching is difficult. My heart goes out to her family and I hope they find her soon.
Update! When I started working on this post, little Ida had not been found. The news just came through that some cyclists found her about 2 and a half miles from the command post. Hooray! I’m thrilled with the happy ending. 🙂
The following is in no way a criticism of Ida’s parents. It was just a sobering reminder of what can happen when you travel with children. My father was a founding member of a desert search and rescue team. Lastech works in security at a site that’s always jammed packed with tourists. My advice comes from the experiences of both.
One of the most important pieces of advice is this: If you get lost STOP! Trying to find your way once you are lost may only make it worse. This applies to grownups AND children. If you’re on an ATV (or any vehicle) and run out of gas, stay with it. If in the forest, the youngsters to hug a tree and stay there, no matter how scared they are.
Camera or cellphone: Keep a current photo of their shoes, including the soles. Take one showing them in their clothes. You can delete and replace that one as necessary each day. Under extreme stress, it may be difficult to remember those details and it will certainly help the searchers. This should apply to the adults as well.
Get a whistle. Only permit them to carry it when it you are going someplace where they might get lost or wander off. The whistle can be heard much more easily than a voice. You can make it a big and special deal that they be careful to NOT blow it unnecessarily.
Important: When it comes to blowing the whistle, have them make two are three long toots. Then they should sing a favorite ditty and then blow it again. That way, if the searchers can hear it, they can respond and be heard. If the blowing is constant, it’s harder to locate or respond. The pauses give searchers time to zero in on where the sound is coming from. Since children tend to be impatient, singing a little song between whistle-blowing can help keep them calm and patient.
Clothing: Be sure to have them wear bright colors that can be seen from a distance. It just makes it easier for them to be seen.
Their fears: This is very important. Make sure they know that if they get lost, you will NOT be angry. Some children have hidden (and died) out of the fear of being in trouble with their parents or searchers. The harder part is dealing with “stranger danger”. They have to know when it’s ok to approach a stranger for help.
Time is of the essence: If you should suddenly find your child missing, don’t waste a lot of time searching. Get immediate help as every minute counts. If you know where they were last seen, protect that area to preserve any footprints that can be used by searchers. It’s far better to mobilize searchers only to find them in another section of the campground or park.
The city or large crowds: If you go to a ballgame, or any other place where you find crowds, get a pic of them AND the shoes. When a child is lost in a crowd, it’s easiest to start watching feet.
Getting help: Tell them if they get lost, to find someone in uniform. There will be security or park rangers in most places. The whistle should only be used in the case of a stranger trying to take them away. If they have a pocket, put a slip of paper with the name(s) , physical ,and clothing description of the parent(s). It will help.
Again, Time is of the essence: In this case, do NOT waste time hunting for them. Report it to security or rangers immediately so that many more people are looking.
Last, but not least: If you and your family are going out on a day trip to hike or drive, make sure someone knows where you are going and a check-in time so that they know when to report you missing. If you break down, stay with the vehicle. If you are on a road, an airplane will see the vehicle before they see you. Always carry plenty of water and if you’re in a place where it gets cold, keep extra blankets in the car.
Have a wonderful summer, but above all… be safe.
Now it’s time for the pointy eared people.