Chapter 6 - Call-out

Bush Search and Rescue Victoria will only respond to an official Victoria Police request. We will normally be called only for searches in bush and mountain areas, perhaps under snow, where our members’ skills are most appropriate, rather than in urban or farming areas.

Your Decision to Attend a Search

As a volunteer you are not compelled to make yourself available and you should only do so if no serious inconvenience would result, if you are in good health and if your equipment is up to standard.

However, you should make every reasonable effort to accept a call-out. BSAR is called out by Victoria Police because BSAR provides a source of personnel with expertise not readily available from other emergency services.

Your commitment as a searcher is valuable irrespective of who is missing. It may be natural to slip into making a personal judgment about the value of attending a particular search. But the information available to you is normally very brief and may not communicate the seriousness of the situation. If a call-out occurs, you are needed.

The default call-out commitment is for up to two full days of searching. Travelling to and from the search area is typically done at night. If you cannot commit for two days plus travel, it is best to decline. If you are unavailable initially but if you will be able to respond to a subsequent call-out, please inform the search PLO.

Police and Bush Search and Rescue members at the Mt Stirling practice 2001

Police and Bush Search and Rescue members at the Mt Stirling practice 2001

Who Should Respond

Only you.  A search call-out is not the time to recruit new members. Non-members will not be permitted to attend a search, no matter how willing or capable.  BSAR will not be able to vouch for their claimed capabilities; extra people may upset transport arrangements; they may not be covered by the Emergency Management Act.

How a Call-out Works

  • Police Search and Rescue (SAR) will contact a BSAR Police Liaison Officer (PLO) or Field Organiser (FO), by working down a list that we provide them. They will advise that BSAR might or will be needed. The Search PLO, with assistance from other PLOs or Club Contacts, will issue the appropriate messages.
  • Depending how likely it is that BSAR will be needed and how urgent the possible need, that message will be either a Standby message or a Call-out message. A Standby allows for low key preparation like speaking to your employer during the working day, or checking equipment. It will not typically include a departure time.  A Call out message will usually necessitate immediate packing.
  • SAR will ideally initiate a call-out by 6pm, but more commonly it will be in the evening or overnight. Usually a bus carrying BSAR personnel will depart the same night or very early the next morning. The best time for BSAR to arrive at the search location in most circumstances is first light.

Sometimes news reports may indicate that someone is lost in the bush or snow. This might provide some advance warning, but call-outs can occur at any time, usually in advance of news reports. Weekends are the most likely time for trouble. It is also far more likely that call-outs will be at night rather than during the day. This is because people are seldom reported missing before nightfall and by the time police investigate and a decision is made to call BSAR, it is usually late at night. These two factors combined mean that the period around weekends is the most likely time for a call-out with Monday nights being the most common.

Searches are never called off due to bad weather or rough conditions.

The call-out process itself can take the Search PLO a long time. Also, at this early stage of a search, the PLOs will have very little information, some of which may be unreliable. For both these reasons you should not waste time requesting unnecessary details, but concentrate on times, transport arrangements and special equipment requirements. These are best written down immediately.

If you are available, you will be told briefly of the area, the person or persons lost, any maps required, any special equipment that may be required, and the place and time of departure. Do not report to the departure point without having responded to the call out.

Often as little as two or three hours notice is given and if delays or difficulties have occurred you may not have sufficient time to reach the departure point. Search groups must leave at the designated time, so if you are unable to make the departure point, advise the PLO and wait for the next call-out.            

Message Types

There are three types of message content:

  • Standby:  Just a heads-up with basic information and no reply option (SMS and/or email)
  • Call-out:  May contain more information, indicates that responses are being sought (automated telephony, SMS, email and/or telephone tree)
  • Cancellation:  All efforts are made to communicate by the same media and to the same recipients as the preceding Standby or Call-out messages.

Ways You Will Be Contacted

There are several media available for PLOs for sending Standby, Call-out or Cancellation messages:

  • Automated Telephony - A recorded message sent to the member's home phone or, where the member does not have a landline, the member's mobile.
  • SMS - Sometimes requesting a response, sometimes not.
  • Email - As a backup to SMS
  • Telephone Tree -  Not commonly used. The PLO manually phones Club Contacts, who in turn call their club members.  Club Contacts inform PLO of who will attend.

            Call-out system


Typical Call-out Scenarios

While, detailed procedures exist for PLOs and FOs for each of these scenarios, search PLOs will use the contact media available to them in the combination that is most suitable to the circumstance.  These are the most likely combinations.

General call-out

- most commonly

  • Typically, PLO uses automated telephony, SMS and email.
  • Searchers respond to PLO via SMS (preferably) or email
  • PLO confirms directly with Searchers

- in some instances

  • PLO telephones Club Contacts who then each call the BSAR members of their own club (except BV members who will be contacted directly by the PLO)
  • Club Contacts pass on departure information to BSAR Searchers who confirm they can attend
  • Club Contacts advise PLO of searchers from their club who will attend

Limited numbers call-out

  • PLO will accept members for the search as they respond, until the required number is achieved
  • PLO may perform the call-out by SMS alone, following with other media if the required number does not immediately respond

Cold case call-outs

  • SAR initiates by contacting a PLO in the usual fashion but days or weeks in advance of the search.
  • PLO will use SMS and email for the call-out.
  • After consultation with SAR, the FO will brief searchers in advance by email.

Local call-outs in NE Victoria

  • Local Police Operations Commander initiates by contacting local BSAR club contact directly.
  • Local Police Operations Commander notifies Police Search and Rescue of local call-out in progress.
  • Local BSAR club notifies BSAR PLO of local call-out in progress
  • Escalation to general BSAR call-out is at the discretion of local Police Operations Command, in consultation with Police Search and Rescue.
  • Transport for BSAR searchers on local call-outs is preferably by local Police 4WD vehicles. However, members can travel by private car if authorised by local police.
  • Note: Use of private cars for BSAR transport on searches is strongly discouraged.


A missing person may be found ahead of BSAR's arrival.  However willingly you participate in this community service, there is no denying that every callout is a disruption for you and to all concerned.  A cancellation can be a frustration, but it is actually good news for the search subject, their family and you.  Call-outs which, in hindsight, were unnecessary, cannot be helped and must be accepted.

Updated 17 Feb 2014