Missing Persons exercise held in Tipperary

Date Published : September 5th, 2016    Published By : admin

A Missing Persons exercise was held in Tipperary over the weekend, involving the Civil Defence College, Tipperary Gardaí and Civil Defence members from the region.

Report by:  Ger Murphy

Gardai in Nenagh received a report on Saturday morning at 8am of a missing student from Gurteen Agricultural College outside Roscrea. That was the first call which initiated the Civil Defence and An Garda Síochána Regional Missing Persons Exercise. The aim of the exercise was to create a learning opportunity in which Civil Defence Missing Person Search Teams tested their skills and abilities in an unfamiliar setting in support of local Garda Units. The venue itself at Gurteen had been kept secret right up to the morning of the event with participants having initially arrived to Civil Defence Headquarters in Roscrea before moving to the venue.

Civil Defence Search Mangers Caroline Cooney (Offaly), Imelda Bardon (Westmeath) and Brian Kennedy (Sligo) with Inspector Oliver Henry of Nenagh Garda Station co-ordinated the response. The exercise organiser Ger Murphy from Civil Defence College explained that the missing person’s scenario was about “Making the Familiar Unfamiliar” a signpost of things to come over the duration of the event.

ET A Garda and Civil Defence Responder preparing to search the grounds of Ringfort Lodge
Photo: Civil Defence College

Following the initial call to Gardai, Borrisakane based Garda Brendan Healy attend the scene taking a detailed missing persons report. His colleagues from Nenagh Station arrived soon after headed by Inspector Henry. Based on Garda initial inquires Inspector Henry, in line with established protocol, requested Civil Defence Units assist with the search operation. Civil Defence volunteer search teams arrived from Sligo, Meath, Cork South, Westmeath, Cork West, Monaghan and Offaly with initial instructions to prepare logistical support in terms of communications and team formation.

While this was happening Gardai and a Civil Defence Search Manager held a joint interview with Gurteen staff Hugh O’Brien (Bursar), Maura Campbell (Student Welfare) and Richard Hamilton (Farm Co-ordinator) to ascertain any further information about the missing student. With a fuller picture now established all parties began to plan the search response.

Ger Murphy explained that Search Managers had a considerable task ahead with some 600 acres of land to cover comprised of agricultural buildings, open farmland, forestry, watercourses and willow plantation. Ger further explained the Search Managers would use their training and experience to establish priority search locations based on a mixture of missing persons profiling, local information and natural features.

ET Operations room with Garda and Civil Defence Search Managers
Photo: Civil Defence College

Back in the incident room one Search Manager created seven response teams composed of volunteers from different counties; a Garda attached to each. A second Search Manger working with the Inspector, identified priority areas to search commencing with a number of farm buildings and nearby forestry. The third Search Manager liaised with the Communications Team based in Civil Defences Command & Control vehicle.

With seven teams dispatched to key points it was not long before information began to feed into Search Managers and Garda. Listening in at Command & Control it was evident each team encountered various challenges from locked buildings requiring keys through to overly inquisitive animals, skittish horses unfamiliar with walkie-talkie radios, stray calves, dense forestry and electric fences.

What struck all observers was the level of training Search Teams had and how small numbers of responders could cover so much ground. By mid afternoon the missing student, played by Joe Daly of Gurteen, was discovered in a wooded area. Displaying signs of slurred speech, hunger and confusion he was medically assessed by Emergence First Responders and diagnosed with moderate hypothermia.

During the medical assessment Joe began to refer to a friend who he was concerned for and wondering did he get home. It turned out Joe and a friend James Scully from “Ringfort Lodge” had been socialising together.  With this new development and details radioed back to the Search Managers they in turn redeployed teams moving westwards along a number of routes. In the course of which they found a number of clues. Two other teams were despatched to James home “Ringfort Lodge” to conduct a hasty search.

ET Civil Defence Trainng
Photo: Civil Defence College

While the second search was going on an Off-road Ambulance supplied by Offaly Civil Defence, one of many specialist rescue vehicles, arrived on scene to plan and extract Joe. It was not as straight forward as one would think and required specialist people handling skills.  The impressive array of skills and rescue vehicles used by Civil Defence at the event clearly showed they have the capacity to operate as a fully independent support to our emergency service.

Back to the second missing person and impressively within thirty minutes they had found the second person, alive but unresponsive from a blow to the head. As with Joe a team of medics treated James at the scene. With both missing persons found and transported back to Gurteen College there was a debriefing session held with all participants in the College Hall.

Subsequently a variety of workshops were hosted to enhance learning from the exercise. Of note was that on “Maps Without Apps” facilitated by Meath Volunteer Kealan McMoreland which aimed to explore map reading skills without the support of technology.

ET A Civil Defence Command & Control Unit
Photo: Civil Defence College

Civil Defence Headquarters were delighted with the outcomes from the exercise and had particular high praise for Gurteen Colleges cooperation and their staffs participation in the event. Thanks went to Mike Pearson and his teams with a special mention to Gurteens’ Joe Daly who role played one of the missing students. Richard Hamilton was likewise acknowledged for his assistance in the search of the farm complex. Thanks also went to An Garda Sionchana and Nenagh’s Inspector Henry and his team who played an invaluable role in the organisation and implementation of the exercise. Final and well deserved thanks went to the Civil Defence Volunteers who gave up their time freely to participate in the exercise and without whom there would have been not event.

Talking to a number of them afterwards they came from varied backgrounds in terms of age  from young through to old not mention many were leaving certificate students, hairdressers, farmers, fishermen, home-helper’s, council workers, retirees and a trainee doctor to mention a few.  I could not but admire the Monaghan leaving certificate students who, instead of been at home anxiously waiting on their results, were traversing the countryside of North Tipperary.

In short what I took from the Exercise was that we have a lot of ordinary people with extraordinary skills living among their communities ready to act in times of emergency.

ET Civil Defence Search Managers Imelda Bardon (Westmeath) Caroline Cooney (Offaly) Patrick Kennedy (Sligo) with exercise organiser Ger Murphy of Civil Defence College Roscrea.

Pic: (Civil Defence Search Managers Imelda Bardon, Westmeath; Caroline Cooney, Offaly; Patrick Kennedy, Sligo with exercise organiser Ger Murphy, Civil Defence College)  

Further information on Civil Defence can be found by visiting their website  www.civildefence.ie

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