“Sorry, but we can’t talk about it…”

Search and Rescue teams are called out by the emergency services when someone is in dire need of specialist help. More often than not for us that need is for a vulnerable adult (dementia, suicidal or self-harm intentions, learning difficulties etc.) or a child, meaning that the person is at much higher risk than normal.

But that leaves us with a duty of care to that person which extends beyond searching and bringing them to safety. We also have a duty to offer them continued protection by not giving any information which might link their name to a medical condition, the reason we searched for them, or attract people to a scene who may be there for nefarious reasons.

It’s also an unfortunate fact that when some missing-people have come to harm, their assailants join the search for them in order to change, contaminate or divert the search.

It’s for those reasons that we have a policy not to talk about any case on our social media, even when asked.

We can talk freely about our work with floods or physical injuries, and we can share Police appeals for missing persons… but the majority of our work is dealing with vulnerable individuals, and you’ll not hear us talk about that.

Which gives us a bit of an interesting situation. If we’re completely honest, for rescue teams, callouts equate directly to spontaneous donations (That’s why Mountain Rescue teams often post details of injured walkers). If people see we’re doing something in the community it can drive them to donate, which helps us keep going.

So being able to talk about what we’re doing is important for us – it engages our social media followers and the public – and we often see a little spike in donations when we’re mentioned in the press or by the Police.

And that’s why we try to balance the “Sorry, but we can’t talk about it…” position with one of “CALLOUT!” announcements that are very often not followed up by any more information. It can be frustrating for the public, our members and the press, and considered a bit of a tease on our behalf; but that’s the rules we work by – the vulnerable adult or child comes first, the charity second.

If you’re reading this and you’ve shared an appeal for a missing person in the past, and they’ve been found, please consider deleting your posts to help that person move on with life.

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Comments

  1. It’s a very sensitive area and I’m inclined to think the less said about specific call outs the better especially on social media as its too easy to say too much. Talking in general terms about the kind of things we get involved in is by far the best approach.

  2. Well said, so many times team members get caught up in the emotion of the moment, that they forget our MOU’s and privacy agreements.
    I can quote our Medical Examainer that once told us in a crime scene prevention class.
    “If anything of a sensitive nature about an ongoing case gets out, and I find out it came from one of your team members, you’ll never work in this county again.”

  3. I work for an autism charity as a support worker and many of our clients are active in the countryside.

    I’m really curious – how do you deal with autism sufferers? for instance, the fire brigade have a list of all our properties and instructions that they’ll meet resistance from someone say refusing to leave because they’re afraid or they don’t understand the danger and here’s a weirdo in a spacesuit dragging them out their bed. Some just lash out anyway, due to their anxieties.

    I’m really curious. Do you do courses or go on courses?

  4. Excellent question. We give the Big Red Safety Guide to all our volunteers to read. (http://nationalautismassociation.org/docs/BigRedSafetyToolkit-FR.pdf) and at the start of any search involving an autism sufferer we re-brief members in how to (or how not to) approach the individual, after asking for as much information as possible from the family or carers.

    We then task the search based on priority areas – water in particular is a HUGE attractor and risk to autism sufferers, and will always be a priority.

  5. As a general point, I think “person with autism” would be better than “autism sufferers”. There are plenty of people with autism (particular at the high-functioning end of the spectrum) who don’t think they are suffering – it’s the neurotypical types who they feel sorry for.

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