5 On-Scene Support Prior to Retrieval
5 On-Scene Support Prior to Retrieval
5.1 The main aim throughout rescue is, of course, to preserve life. That is the primary aim too when supporting people on scene. Put simply, we need to help them stay alive until they can be rescued.
5.2 Threats to life will vary according to the circumstances. People in the water without buoyancy aids will drown – sometimes very quickly. People in the water with buoyancy aids will also die, usually because of the cold – and remember that 'cold' water can be as warm as 25°C: see the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual, Volume II chapter 3.8.6. People in survival craft may die from the cold, although less quickly than if they were in the water. They may also die because of injury or other medical condition. In time they will die of thirst. Conversely, people tend to survive longer in any given condition if they know that they have been found and will be rescued.
For full discussion of 'cold' water survival and rescue techniques – including the risks of 'rescue collapse' – see the IMO's MSC Circulars 1185 Rev.1, 'Guide for Cold Water Survival' and 1182 Rev.1, 'Guide to Recovery Techniques'.
5.3 It follows that these threats to life should be addressed in order of priority. If there are people in the water without buoyancy aids who cannot be immediately rescued, buoyancy aids should be dropped to them. Such aids include lifebuoys, lifejackets and liferafts – although anything that floats will be better than nothing.
5.4 Getting people out of the water will be the next priority. If they cannot be recovered directly this means deploying survival craft or similar units. These should be so designed as to be boardable by people who are cold, tired or unfit.
5.5 To ensure that people can be found again when rescue units are available to retrieve them, it may be necessary to provide them with radios, lights, SAR transponders or emergency position-indicating radio beacons, unless a responding unit can be spared to monitor their position.
5.6 Guidance paper 2.6 provides guidance on supporting survivors during rescue, some of which applies to the provision of on-scene support too. Protecting people from the elements, ideally by providing a purpose-built survival craft they can get into, and additional clothing if necessary, is the priority after keeping them from drowning. Medical attention is the next most important consideration, together with the provision of drink and, if possible, food. If two-way communications equipment can be provided this will be of considerable help to the survivors' morale as well as enabling the exchange of information useful to the rescuers.
5.7 Deploying all this equipment will be a matter of lowering or dropping it from SAR units or from additional resources such as vessels of opportunity.
5.8 Fixed-wing SAR aircraft cannot rescue people directly, but they can often be the first on scene and they should be able to drop detection, communications and survival equipment such as liferafts etc. Other designated SAR units should be able to transfer this equipment to the scene and leave it for those they cannot immediately recover. As noted above, in some circumstances a relatively few SAR units can rescue many people by engaging in a shuttle service, either back to the shore or to larger units on or near the scene. This is another means of filling the capability gap – but it is dependent on the people waiting being able, or enabled, to survive until it is their turn to be rescued.
5.9 Implicit in the idea of supplying equipment to help keep people alive until they can be retrieved is the need to have such equipment available to be deployed. While some SAR units may carry some such equipment as a matter of course, only the largest can carry the large quantities that may be required in an MRO. This implies stockpiles of equipment which can be quickly loaded when required – but this, in turn, leads to planning difficulties. MROs are rare, and equipment needs to be bought, stored somewhere, and maintained. Can the expense be justified, for an event that may never happen within range? Where should such stockpiles be sited? Having survival equipment immediately available to designated SAR units will be a more practical proposition in most cases – but it is unlikely to be enough in an MRO.
5.10 Stockpiling equipment may be considered feasible in areas analysed as being at higher risk of experiencing an MRO, or for remote area operations, where it may take a considerable time to get rescue units to the scene: equipment can be airlifted in while the rescue units are en route.
5.11 An alternative to purchasing and stockpiling is to make arrangements with local equipment suppliers on an on-call basis. Realistically, however, this is an idea of limited application so far as at-sea support is concerned. (It is much more practicable as regards preparing shoreside reception facilities: see guidance paper 2.7.)
5.12 Vessels of opportunity will not, of course, be equipped for MROs – but they may be able to supply some of the equipment discussed above from their own stocks. Ships' liferafts and lifejackets as well as lifebuoys can be passed to survivors in the water around them, for example, and other equipment may be transferred to survival craft. MSC Circular 1182 Rev.1, 'Guide to Recovery Techniques', provides guidance on this subject.
In some circumstances, shipping in the area may be able to supply this sort of help quicker than designated SAR units can. While it is a serious matter for any master to deploy the ship's lifesaving appliances in this way, the actual risk to the people in distress can be agreed to outweigh both the hypothetical risk to the ship's crew of some future emergency and the expense involved.
5.13 It will be of great help if rescue personnel can be deployed to assist people being supported on scene pending rescue. Rescue personnel can assist people to board survival craft and can tend them there, undertaking triage, carrying out first aid, and reporting on their condition. Their presence will also calm survivors and raise their confidence, which will in itself extend their survival times.
5.14 The capability level of these supporting personnel can vary according to circumstances, but an individual should never be expected to undertake such work if too great a risk is entailed. Rescue personnel are unlikely to be deployed into survival craft from vessels of opportunity for the simple reasons that they are unlikely to have the necessary training and equipment, and if it is safe to deploy them it should also be safe to recover the survivors into the parent vessel. If recovery is not an option for them, such vessels will be more use providing equipment to survivors and standing by to give them some shelter and to direct rescuers to them. Designated SAR unit crews, on the other hand, can be trained for the on-scene support task. Some are very highly trained indeed: aircraft-deployed SAR Technicians, for example, can be deployed by air to remote-area SAR cases, and would be invaluable as forward responders in an MRO.