To study contemporary land-based search and rescue coordination - New Zealand, USA, Canada, UK

My name is Darren Robert Hopkins, I’m 46 years of age and I’m a police inspector based at Launceston Police Headquarters, Tasmania.  I have been employed by Tasmania Police now for 27 years.  I have a partner Michelle and together we raise four children aged between 13 and 19 years of age. DarrenBoat

I have had a long involvement with search and rescue in Tasmania and interstate.  This formed the basis for my Churchill Fellowship application and a desire to discover more with regard to delivering a professional and contemporary rescue service



The purpose of my fellowship was to study contemporary land-based search and rescue coordination.  I have been involved in search and rescue now for many years.  Prior to applying for the fellowship, I had noticed that search and rescue in Tasmania had been slow to research and adapt to new ideas or methodologies and to implement those ideas in our day-to-day business practices.

I was keen to explore three contemporary land-based search and rescue ideas.  They were related to lost person behaviour, purposeful wandering and 406 MHz distress beacon homing on land.

The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust provided me with the opportunity to research those topics with the view of implementing any positive findings in this state and potentially across Australia.

I wanted to visit locations that I believed were contemporary in search and rescue practices and were practicing those skills in conditions similar to Tasmania. The countries I selected were New Zealand, Canada, United States of America and the United Kingdom.

During the seven week study tour, I took a three week break during which my partner and I travelled to Cuba, Bahamas and onto Ukraine.  I found the ability to break the travel and join family to be very important for me to one have a break from what was an intense schedule but even more so for my partner so that she could feel included.


From the study tour I concluded the following:

Purposeful wandering, as a search technique has proven very successful in all the countries visited and has in some cases been used over the last decade. The technique is a much more efficient and effective method of searching as compared to our current standard of line searches. Searchers take ownership of the search and exhibit greater initiative because of the ability to make wider tactical decisions about where to search for the subject. Field research has been conducted in the USA and Canada and results have all been positive with much higher probabilities of detecting the object/subject. While researching this topic, I was also made aware to other forms of search technique being used. They were the sound line and sound/light line searches, primarily carried out in New Zealand and the UK. Training in purposeful wandering has already commenced for some search and rescue squads in Tasmania and local trials will be conducted to prove the technique in the field under local conditions.

Land-based distress beacon homing has universally been described as a “black art” by most specialists interviewed. Skill levels around the world varying from none at all to squads having specialist teams with air support. I am now confident that the equipment being used by Tasmania Police is of world standard but our training in detecting and understanding the dynamics 121.5 MHz homing signal, needs to be greatly improved. The Civil Air Search and Rescue Authority in Ottawa, Canada were by far the best equipped and trained group I met and significant training material and information was obtained from them. This will assist in developing a training manual for Tasmania Police and the State Emergency Service.

My research into lost person behaviour was very successful. I was also fortunate enough to take part in the train-the-trainer course and was given tremendous insight to the development of the lost person data and how to use it in the field. Further to that I am now qualified to instruct in lost person behaviour. Research emphasised the need to develop a local database to record lost person behaviours here. Previous research conducted by Robert Koester, Ken Hill and others is still of great value here, but there are subtle differences in behaviour of lost people around the world and we need to be aware of what they are locally. I instructed my first course in lost person behaviour here in Tasmania for police and SES during the Search Controllers Course in November 2010.

As a result of those findings I made five recommendations. I am pleased to say all but the development of a training manual for distress beacon homing have been completed but members are now trained in the use of contemporary equipment albeit the manual isn’t written:

1. Search and rescue authorities train for and adopt purposeful wandering as the primary land-based search method.

2. Develop a training manual for land-based distress beacon homing.

3. Purchase additional beacon tracking equipment and suitable storage for quick access and deployment of that equipment into the field.

4. Train all Search and Rescue Controllers in lost person behaviour and supply them with the relevant guides.

5. Develop a search and rescue incident database specifically to record lost person behaviours within Tasmania