When first arriving on location every member of the team must be able to quickly survey and analyze the situation, then make sound decisions based upon observations. These actions will be influenced by all preplanning and training done before hand. When sizing up the situation rescuers must know the facts about the scene, understand the probabilities, know their own situation as to manpower, equipment and training, and finally make a decision, developing a clear plan of action. This is the SIZE UP. During this phase attention must be given to the safety factors involved. All risk to the Team must be considered, remembering weather will influence not only work, but also how it will take place.
Once the call is received the size up for action begins based on the NATURE OF THE CALL. If the call came in as a possible drowning, then the team starts mentally preparing a plan accordingly, however, if the call was a missing diver, then they would start planning totally different from a drowning. This is planning based on the nature of the call. The very first thing the dive team commander must establish, is a clear objective, why the operation is being undertaken, and what the team plans to accomplish. This should be brief and specific. An example would be: ”Find lost diver in 45 minutes. ” To determine the operation objective and success, pertinent information must be assembled, and analyzed for each particular incident. The type and extent of information gathered will be influenced by certain factors such as, location of the dive site, number of rescue divers, weather, equipment needed, and witnesses.
Determine the location and any preplanning that was done at that site. This is where the training, and mapping your areas pays off. If every man has trained for all possible scenarios before an actual call, then all members will already know bottom conditions and depth
All equipment responding to the call must be stationed where it is readily available. This is the STAGING AREA. The staging area must be close enough so manpower can reach the actual location but also stationed so large trucks, such as firetrucks, do not block access to the site.
Next the Team Leader must set up his COMMAND POST (CP) that is the area the Team will be operating from. It must have clear access to equipment and water. This must be a well thought out and rehearsed operation. The command post contributes to the efficiency and safety of the team. Providing a location where the Team Leader can keep aware of the changing occurrences in the operation. It should be used on every operation, including training dives. It is where transport personnel should wait to receive the victim. The command post is the spot where all responding companies report for duty assignments, therefore, it should not be too far from the staging area. It is also the locality where all members of the media and press should be directed for information. It should have a secure area for members of the family or friends of any victims. By doing this, having to look for them when needed is eliminated, additionally it keeps them from being bothered by bystanders or press.
When all equipment is ready the team must decide upon its plan of action. This will be determined by safety factors, risk factors, and training. All pertinent information should be assembled and studied for each particular operation. This will aid in selection of techniques equipment, divers, identifying any potential hazards and making contingencies
The success of any operation is directly related to training and planning. Bottom time is always a premium and any planning that conserves it should be used. All support units should be on location or en route prior to dive operations starting. Equipment and supplies on hand must be adequate to complete any started operation. If the weather is extreme, or whenever the safety of the divers are in jeopardy, dive operations should not be done. When environmental conditions change, and divers are in the water, then dives in progress should be aborted as needed. Be sure that any diver requiring decompression stops, conduct them prior to surfacing on aborted operations. There must be protection at all times from extremes in temperature and pollution.
Some operations, such as a trapped or lost diver in a sunken vessel or cave, will require collecting a great deal of information before any diver enters the water. When the team is in the recovery mode it will have time to gather and plan more slowly than in the rescue mode. If the team is involved in the recovery of a boat, vehicle, or plane from the bottom, they will need to at least know the dimensions and weight. Additional information such as plans and cargo will help establish lifting points and amount of lifting equipment required.
In search operations any data gathered in advance will help limit the area to be searched. The importance of this is because underwater searching by divers may be inefficient and can be hazardous to the divers. Any information that narrows the search area is to be considered highly profitable. When the object of the search has been found, the site must be marked with a buoy, which was rigged in advance, prior to the diver surfacing.
Information identifying hazards must be collected before divers enter the water. One of the first things to be considered is how much boating traffic is in the area. Another major considerations is pollution. Anytime that dive operations take place an area where boating traffic is expected, the team must display all appropriate signals. The team also must assume that none of the boaters know what any of the signals mean.
If the dive team is working in the dock area or around ships, they must know the location and status of sea-suction, and discharge points. They should inform the Captain of any vessel they will be operating by that dive operations will be conducted by his ship. This will insure that the ship’s props are not started while divers are in the water. This is best done by the Port Authority, or the Coast Guard. In any port notify the Port Captain and Coast Guard before starting operations, especially large ports such as, Houston, Galveston, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Boston, etc.
Whenever the team is in a port doing operations remember to inform the Port Captain. He is responsible for every thing that happens in the port, and only he or the Coast Guard, have the authority to board any vessel of any registry. Never board a vessel without permission, and never board a foreign vessel without the Port Captain, or the Coast Guard.
Much of the information gathered in the planning phase will come from outside sources. If conditions and time permits, the team can confer and refine the dive plan. In all situations the data should be in the following categories: condition of divers, weather surface conditions, bottom conditions, equipment, resources, and support personnel.
Weather and surface conditions are one of the first things noted by any arriving team. They affect not only the divers but the top side support teams. These conditions are influenced by time of the year, wind, waves, tides, currents, cloud cover, temperature, and boating traffic. Normal conditions can be determined by the dive team checking the conditions of their area of responsibility periodically and conducting year round training dives. It may take a dive team three to four years before it can know the conditions of their area well enough for any given weak of the year.
Weather reports, and forecast must be studied to be sure that conditions do not deteriorate. The reports must be continually monitored while dive operations are in progress. In coastal regions the use of tide tables must be adhered to. Another factor is the state of the sea. Wave action affects boat operations. Divers are normally not affected by heavy seas unless operating in surf or shallow water. After a certain depth, that varies with surface conditions, a diver will not be aware of any wave action.
Extremes of temperatures that may be encountered on the surface must be planned for. In cold the surface crew must have warm clothing and rubber suits for those that will be working around wet divers. There should be plenty of hot coffee. Divers need to have a wind break for after exiting the water while they are wet. This is due to wind chill that is any movement of cold air over the skin, it will have an equivalent to that of a much colder temperature. In cold water bottom time should be decreased, to reduce overall cooling of the diver and the fact that working efficiency drops off, and divers gets fatigued easily. In hot months the surface and support crews need protection from sunburn, windburn and dehydration.
Operations to be done at times when it is known that surface fog may be present or will appear, could seriously hinder the dive. The safety of the diver and support crews should be the prime consideration in determining if operations should start or be aborted if already in progress. In heavy fog a surfacing diver can become disorientated. If diving from a boat the diver may not be able to find the vessel. Danger to any surface craft also must be considered.
Dive operations should be stopped anytime electric storms or any other conditions that jeopardize the Dive Team develops. Any aborting of an operation is the responsibility of the Team Leader. If the Team Leader is not present then the Divemaster in-charge will make the discussion. Remember, is the risk worth the benefit?
When selecting personnel and determining equipment needed depth is a major factor. Depth must be carefully measured due to decompression. Charts should be taken as only a probable depth. The best way to know depths is through preplanning. When the Team dives the area frequently, then they know the depth of every site in their response area. Fresh water divers also need to worry about depth. Many lakes drop to over 100 feet rapidly. Some areas may be out of the scope of dive operations due to the depth exceeding safe diving limits.
During pre-planning the Team should note bottom contours and characteristics. The bottom dictates search technique and possible hazards in the area, such as trees and caves. A bottom may be full of lines and cables. Sometimes these can hinder search operations. Divers need to be cautioned not to cut any lines or cables underwater, until they are certain of their purpose.
Visibility will influence what type of search techniques should be employed. In limited visibility bottom time increases due to a longer period of time to find the object being searched for. Visibility can dictate how the team performs search operations. Bottom type has a lot to do with visibility. Additional divers and search teams will be required under bad conditions.
In salt water environments divers have to consider dangerous marine life. Crash sites of aircraft or boating accidents can draw sharks. In general most marine life leave divers alone. The best prevention a diver has against marine life is knowing what is, and what is not dangerous in the area. Fresh water divers also have to consider dangerous marine life. Although most people only think of the sea as having dangerous creatures, freshwater can have snakes, and alligators.
Every operation will have conditions that are under team control and those that are not under team control. Time is the biggest variable not under team control. Dive gear, and search and recovery equipment should be under the direct control of the dive team. In any operation the team must identify all resources. This includes personnel, equipment, time, and support.
After arriving at the scene the team has to access the area for entry and exit points. Stand by divers have to be designated and ready to enter the water. The Team Leader and Divemaster need to in all cases, note the condition of the divers in determining bottom time, especially fatigue, not only the depth.
After the dive objective has been met, whether it is an actual operation or training dive, the planning must carry through site breakdown, and record filing. All gear must be recovered, cleaned, and inspected. Tanks must be filled and ready to go for the next operation. Debriefing of all team members to discuss the over all operation should only be done after the team is ready to respond again, by having all gear stowed and tanks full. All equipment must be ready, emergency accessories that will be needed is available and everything has been serviced and inspected. The dive site is not the place to inventory equipment, it has to be done well in advance, everything needs to be ready. A final inventory of all needed items is done at the dive site, but it is to make sure all is ready. Some situations may dictate that items need to be borrowed from the fire department, such as ladders.
The DIVE SITE BRIEFING is the way the Team Leader and the Divemaster convey to the other divers the operational plan. It is the overall view of the entire operation, and gives the divers a chance to ask question and hash out strategy. There are two types of on site briefings, one used for a quick attack and the other, more complete, used during training and when in the recovery mode.
The DEBRIEFING is one of the most important post-dive activities. It is best done at the dive site but can be performed at the station depending on the weather, and conditions of the divers. In most cases it is best to spilt the debriefing in two parts, one at the site, the other at the station after putting all the equipment away, and refilling tanks. While the Team is still on site they need to update all their maps, and if a drowning or vehicle accident (boat, auto, or aircraft) they should make a scene map with where the victim(s) where found.
The Starting Point
When starting an operation, a starting point is needed. The best place to start is the last seen point of the victim. Without it a great deal of uncertainty exist as to where to start as to entering the water. For determining this point interview witnesses and get their story. Witnesses always have a different story and point in different directions. This is common because each was standing at a different location, seeing at a different angel. To get a good starting point have each witness take you to where they were standing. Then have them point to where they saw the incident. This is ”fixing a position”. Take all this to the command post and place it on a scene map. After doing this the best place to start will be determined.
A fix is used to determine a position on the surface to find a spot underwater. It can be used as above or used once an object is found. This allow you to relocate an underwater site precisely. The most common way to take a fix is by determining the range and bearings. Bearings are compass headings. A range is a set of in line objects that, when aligned, give a direction. When fixing a position the headings should be as close to 60 to 120 degrees as possible. Objects used for ranges must be permanent and should be as thin and vertical as possible. The greater the distance between them, the better. Always write this information down and carry it with you. Do not rely on memory or guess work. Keep a record of all headings at the command post. By using a combination of ranges and bearings positions can be more quickly found.
In a drowning, the victim normally sinks to the bottom without stopping, even in rivers and canals. Victims are often found in a radius from the last seen point equal to the depth. For example if a person drowns in 20 feet of water, then the body is usually within 20 feet of the last seen position on the bottom.
Use a reference point for witnesses to get the best location. This is done by having a diver swim out to the point or having a boat pass by. Doing this gives the witness an object of about the same size as the victim