Search and Rescue Primer

Managers often draw on math and probability theory to determine where to start looking. For instance, according to Servis, a helicopter looking for an individual in the desert has a 10 percent chance of finding the person in one pass. A search dog looking for someone in the forest might have a 60 percent chance of success.

All those factors come into play -- and quickly -- before the teams are deployed. "I've drawn on specialists in math, computers, psychologists, you name it," said Servis.

Technology is also key. GPS, night-vision technology and satellites are all part of a search-and-rescue team's modern arsenal. "Infrared is a godsend when you're dealing with clear country and cold temperatures … and we're also now using radar -- vegetation-penetrating radar -- to find people," according to Servis.

In recent years, rescuers have added a new tool: searching for cell phone signals from missing people. In Kim's case, officials were able to zeroed in on a search area after detecting a tell-tale "ping" from Kim's cell phone.

As the search continues, most teams follow a 12-to-24-hour planning cycle, although the process is fluid. "People need to keep in mind that a search is a constant, evolving event, and management is constantly changing and re-evaluating the scene as they go through the day," said Bogardus.

And one of the things they continually evaluate is whether or not they should suspend the search or keep going. Although, it's not always that clear-cut. "I know of someone who has been missing for eight years; we've suspended the mission but we're still looking for him," said Servis.

There's always the possibility, too, that any mission can have an entirely different conclusion.

"In this business, we call it successful because we find what we're looking for," said Bogardus. "Unfortunately, the end result may not be happy."

Never more true then in the bittersweet story of the Kim family, as technology and perserverance helped rescuers find most, but tragically not all, of the Kim family alive.

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