Mountainpathfinder>> Georgia SAR>> "Functional Comfort" - Favorite SAR class quotes

For better or worse, my classes seem to enjoy some of my usual jokes and quotes. Over time I've heard some other well-turned phrases of SAR wisdom that are worthy of repeating. Here are a few of the better (or worse!) ones:

"Functional comfort": This isn't so much a quote per se as it is a concept or philosophy of personal SAR preparation. The idea is that the cumulative effort of your training and equipment ought to be focused on keeping you "functionally comfortable".

A state of "functional comfort" is one in which you are equipped just enough - no more and no less - than is necessary to keep you totally focused on finding the subject. Venture out with less than a certain level of equipment and skill and, at some point, a petty annoyance - hunger, dehydration, a headache, a hot spot on your foot - will distract you from the assignment. Take too much stuff, though, and either the burden of carrying it or the need to maintain it will divert your attention from clue-finding. It's a balancing act, a certain "Zen" of SAR.

"Reasonably eliminate opportunities for failure": Little things mean a lot (yet another class favorite). What might only seem like individual and inconsequential shortcomings -

  • A poorly-organized ready pack
  • A skill not fully mastered
  • A bad habit such as trying to hold several objects (pen, notebook, etc.) while shooting azimuths

Will create an accumulated "friction" that prevents you from reaching a higher level of searcher proficiency and confidence. And I'm convinced that a shortfall in proficiency and confidence will materially impact on your powers of observation and endurance -

  • The badly-organized pack means that you can't find something you need immediately; it slows down the search assignment and casts that shade of doubt about your professionalism in the minds of your crew members
  • Being weak on a particular skill makes you hesitant in choosing from alternative courses of action, or prevents you from recognizing a better alternative

The solution: constantly examine what you do and how you do it. Seek out those shortcomings and work to eliminate them. Some examples:

  • Re-pack your pack while creating a personal checklist of what items are in each compartment
  • Mentally "walk-through" a search assignment, while identifying each skill set that you might use. Rehearse the steps in each set. Find the ones that you're rusty on, and begin polishing your performance
  • Develop good habits to defeat bad. Take shooting an azimuth as an example. I must often literally take the extraneous stuff out of students' hands when they shoot bearings. Here's a five-minute daily exercise. All the extras distract you from the task at hand. Worse, the metal in the pen can skew the bearing. For the next three weeks, go outside with your compass, your pace counter, and your pen and paper. Shoot at least 25 bearings - doesn't matter where. The critical thing is to start each bearing shot with everything in your hands, just as you might find yourself on a search assignment. Force yourself to consciously put each article in its correct pocket before shooting the bearing. Before shooting the bearing, extract everything - pencil, paper, pace counter, etc. - and repeat the process - store, shoot, etc. In three weeks you'll have rehearsed this good habit 420 times. That's FOUR HUNDRED and TWENTY TIMES over five minutes each day. Wouldn't that sort of rehearsal of good habits work to extinguish a bad one?

"More clues are missed in the first ten minutes and last ten minutes of a search than at any other time" Craig Bannerman, of the Black Mountain (NC)Fire Department, was a powerful contributor to what you currently see in the NASAR SARTECH program. Focus on clue-finding at all times, and avoid any distractions to that end. Craig explains it best:

"Before you start the mission be in "search mode". That means the pack is adjusted, the mission is known, your shoes are tied and you have cleaned your glasses. When the first step is made on the mission the scanning for clues should start. The last ten minutes are when are the "horse to the barn syndrome" kicks in. That's when searchers are ready to climb in the truck, eat and be back at the CP. We tend to rush and to develop tunnel vision on the pick-up point. As a result we miss clues. The focus must remain on the subject until the mission is over and the de-briefing is done.

"A man with a toothache cannot fall in love": This actually came from Gary Larsen, the author of Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod. Larsen claims that it was a Chinese proverb. The point here is actually a corollary to the concept of "functional comfort". Larsen is pointing out that sometimes even the most mundane, pedestrian distractions can keep you from appreciating the best things in life. Along those lines, a minor physical nuisance during a SAR assignment can take your focus completely away from the search assignment. That brings us back to the concept of maintaining ourselves at a level of "functional comfort."

"It's like that Great American, Clint Eastwood, said, 'A man's got to know his limitations'": Part of teaching SAR preparedness is making students aware that they should learn and appreciate their limitations. Pushing yourself past a critical limitation of personal skill or physical ability could put you or the subject in real danger during a search mission. Hey, the quote fits....

"Remember, we are all just trying to reach a higher level of 'Azimuth' here": This pops up a lot in the field land navigation exercises. Dead reckoning is a skill, not just an isolated piece of knowledge. It's also a skill that some may be familiar with, but one with which many are un-practiced. I can explain only so much about it; beyond that, you have to simply practice it until you become proficient. And some people have a difficult time with that learning curve. When they become frustrated, I explain that we're all striving to get better at navigation, and that it takes time to reach the desired performance level. It's sort of like some funky New Age transcendental philosophy. It's "Azimuth."

"Beware the SAR God": SAR, like many endeavors, engenders its own crop of "SAR gods," each of whom holds her/his opinions to be omniscient and infallible. Balance your learning by tapping into as many instructors and sources of information as possible. I certainly don't know all the answers. I don't even know all the questions yet. If you don't believe me, ask my wife. Or my boss. Seriously, the "my way or the highway" types, and their myrmidon followers, should be avoided like the plague. They hinder you from reaching "Azimuth"....

"Tuition at the School for Hard Knocks is expensive. Learn from others' mistakes": Lessons that you learn through your own mistakes can be costly in your own time, money, and spirit. There is an abundance of lessons that we can learn about SAR through the mistakes already made by our subjects, fellow searchers, and your instructors. Take heed of those lessons, especially when an instructor shares a personal SAR anecdote. What may sound to a novice searcher to be a pointless "war story" could actually be an instructor's attempt to steer you well away from his or her own mistakes.

"There's a time and a place in a SAR team to display your sparkling personality or your powerful intellect. Your team probationary period ain't it": At any given time there is a cohort of novice or prospective searchers bouncing around the community, particularly in SAR dog circles. The cohort has a revolving membership as newbies enter the circuit and either find a permanent home, move to other teams, or drop out. Some of them ask me, "why isn't an organization more enthusiastic about getting me as a member?"

There are many good reasons that a team doesn't pick you up. They include the organization not having the resources to train newbies, or the leadership's realization that team size has grown so large that internal politics are interfering with organizational goals. What trips up many prospects, however, is that they "try too hard." They're excited and they want to impress the leadership with their knowledge. Over-exuberance or an unconscious tendency to try to intellectually "sharp-shoot" an instructor or leader unintentionally becomes their down-fall. The organization puts up with a certain amount of that before leaders and membership start slooowly withdrawing the welcome mat from the offending member.

Keep in mind that what the organization seeks is someone who is a good "fit" within the group. You may bring a lot of potential; nevertheless, the organization (particularly leadership) wants someone who exhibits key qualities:

  • Positive Mental Attitude - a spirit that isn't deterred by negativity. Search, by its nature, happens in challenging circumstances. It frequently ends badly for the subject. Everyone hates a kill-joy
  • Perserverance - a drive to see a goal to completion. SAR training/indoctrination isn't an instantaneous "shake and bake" process. It takes time and lots of work. A team doesn't want to invest in you if it doesn't think you have what it takes
  • Dependability - the sense that your fellow members can count on you to keep your wits about you when the adrenaline level is jacked up
  • Adaptability - the ability to readily fit into the organizational culture, and to behave in a way that positively reflects on the organization.

A lot of people are never afforded the chance to become a probationary member, or to rise from "probie" to member status, because they get on the current membership's nerves. "Too much personality." "Bad fit." "Thought he/she was smarter than everyone else." "Too excitable." Thus, your first "get-to-know-you" meetings or probationary period is a good time to soak up the organizational culture, absorb all the information that you can, and demonstrate that you will be a good investment of time and resources for the organization. Be the "gray man" that only gets noticed for the things that the team sees as important. This isn't to say that you should ever compromise the laws or your personal ethics. It is intended, though, to suggest that you keep in mind that SAR is about the subject, and then the tools to help the subject. If you get picked for a team, it will be because your personality is seen as not being an obstacle to organizational success.

"Methyl-ethyl-bad stuff": Any generic dangerous or hazardous substance. I have no idea where this started although it was taught to me by my field training officer, Leonard Gandy, during my law enforcement days. There is a special place in heaven for a guy that was as patient as he was with me.

Remember, folks, you heard them here first (well, at least some of them!)


Thanks to Craig Bannerman, of the Black Mountain (NC)Fire Department for his contribution to this page. Also, a special thanks to Susie Braswell, of Alpha Team K9 Search and Rescue. The humor she found in "functional comfort" prompted this webpage.

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Updated Sunday, January 10, 2010, 03:43 PM
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