Why are you standing down as BSAR’s Equipment Officer?
After around fifteen years in the role I felt it was time to let somebody else have a go, with fresh ideas and new enthusiasm. Shrinking spare time was also making it harder to give equipment the attention it needs.
When did you first join BSAR?
In 1985, soon after Essendon Bushwalking Club joined the Federation of Victorian Walking Clubs (VicWalk), as BV was known then. I have been EBC’s S&R Delegate ever since.
When did you become the Equipment Officer?
Around 1996. About that time our volume of equipment had a dramatic increase, mainly the new pack covers, a legacy from the search for James O’Shea in the Wongungarra. At that time our equipment was stored in Rik Head’s garage in Glen Iris, but the larger volume, and the opportunity provided by VicWalk opening an office in Richmond with capacity for equipment storage, solved the storage problem. At the time I was the Convener, and lived nearby, so for convenience I slipped into the role of Equipment Officer.
What changes have you seen in equipment since you took on the EO role?
Mostly the introduction of large volumes of electronic ‘gadgets’, first the GPS’s, then the radios, and to a lesser extent, the avalanche beacons. Quantities of ‘gadgets’ have increased to the point where we can now issue a CB radio to nearly every searcher on a large-scale search, greatly helping with field communications.
We have also seen the equipment storage move twice. I think our Northcote location is the best we have had, as access to half of a shipping container has given us the capacity we were long looking for.
What does the Equipment Officer do?
Quite a lot really! The key role is to ensure equipment is ‘search ready’ at all times. Over the years I aimed to have the gear stored in such a way that FO’s could ‘grab and go’, assuming it would be in the early hours of a cold, wet, windy night. Stumbling around in the dark looking for numerous scattered bags and boxes is not the way to go. It needs to be kept simple. I think we are getting there. It’s an evolving process.
After a search or practice it is important to ensure the kits are re-stocked with consumables, like batteries and marking tape, and also high-attrition items, such as scrub gloves, safety glasses, waterproof notepads, etc.
Battery management is now the biggest individual task. There are a lot of ‘gadgets’, and even more batteries. They all they have to checked and sorted into ‘full’, ‘partially used’ and ‘discard’, depending upon their level of charge.
We have to ensure we have enough ‘full’ batteries in the kits to support all gadgets on a long, remote-area deployment, such as the recent search at Combienbar. The ‘partially used’ batteries are to be used mainly on practices, and as last-resort power on a search.
What are the major challenges facing equipment in general?
I think it is very easy to be dazzled by the gadgets and to lose sight of what we do best – searching scrubby gullies. If we are distracted by the equipment then our core strengths, self-sufficiency and strong field capability, could suffer. Gadgets will fail, or we may forget how to drive them, but regardless of what happens to our equipment we need to find a way to continue operating, like we did for fifty-five years before the gadgets were issued, (excluding Police radios).
Next, we need to improve returning equipment after a search or practice. It is very easy, and tempting, after a hard search or practice, to ‘dump and run’, dropping equipment back into storage without ensuring it is ‘search-ready’. We need to assume it will be needed tomorrow. With more equipment this becomes harder and more arduous, with pack covers dried, batteries checked, kits re-stocked and re-balanced etc. And in recent times I have indeed noticed improvements here.
It is tempting to acquire more equipment, such as more radios, GPS’s, high-visibility vests, etc. But when transporting and managing all this gear in the field and in storage becomes a major burden then we need ask “Is this extra gear really essential to our core business – searching scrubby gullies?”
Source: Behind The Log, Bush Search and Rescue Newsletter, May 2011