March 28, 2010

Using the Militia for Search and Rescue

Sometimes I joke that my little rural volunteer fire department truly is the "militia"—open to all, quick to respond, willing to defend a small area (110 sq. mi.), but unable to stay "in the field" for a sustained campaign.

On the other hand, some people have taken the "militia" concept in a different direction, and in Michigan, they find themselves being called on for assistance with search-and-rescue operations.

Unfortunately, some other people, ignorant of the term's historical roots, hear the world "militia" and think "right-wing crazies." But a telling observation comes at the article's end:
Amy Cooter, a doctoral candidate in sociology at University of Michigan, has been studying the militia movement for two years and has interviewed a representative of every unit she can identify in the state. . . .

Most militia members have achieved some level of college education, feel a strong need to be politically involved and simply want to be prepared in the event of a disaster, Cooter said.

“Most militias see their role as helping law enforcement and helping their communities when they need it."


Heather Houlahan said...

Ummm, except that no one seems to be examining the premise that the "militias" have any friggin' idea what they are doing.

Running around the woods scraping saplings with shovels to make childish, nonfunctional "survival bows" IS NOT SEARCH AND RESCUE TRAINING.

Those mutts in the picture ARE NOT TRAINED SEARCH AND RESCUE DOGS.

Michigan has quite a number of trained, professionalized, accountable volunteer search and rescue units.

It's an insult to them, and to all SAR professionals, to equate these wingnuts' imaginary wilderness skills with those mastered by actual trained SAR responders.

I did not see in this story any mention of the local authorities taking the radical step of actually calling a SAR unit or six to conduct a search.

The fact is, untrained volunteers can impede a search effort, and untrained "search dog teams" are quite literally worse than useless.

Chas S. Clifton said...

So, Heather, do you take people who want to help and show them what to do, or do you tell them, "No, you cannot help because you have not been trained"?

I have no idea, of course, if the "professionalized" SAR units are nearby, available, etc.

As for the funky bow, that's a whole 'nother thing--sort of like Scout camp for grown-ups, eh?

Chas S. Clifton said...

A postscript to my earlier comment: Consider the political angle.

If I were a local sheriff or police chief, I might see value in bringing these militia guys into the system to some extent.

Better to get some useful work out of them--and know who they are--rather than marginalizing them.

A win-win situation? The militia guys get to feel useful; the sheriff or whoever gets some manpower.

Heather Houlahan said...

If someone needs to be shown what to do, the time to do it is BEFORE the actual need.

When someone shows up to a search with a dawg and no training records or certifications, they are proclaiming, very clearly, "I already know everything and am not open to learning."

How would your fire department respond to "volunteers" who wanted to show up and run around with hoses when there was a sexy interesting structure fire that they heard about on their scanner, but not train, go to fire school, meet standards, pass background checks, or be accountable for their actions?

SAR is a law enforcement function. People who reflexively hate the cops on principle are not good candidates to be team players under the direction of LE.

One of the organizations cited in this article is Hutaree.

Well, guess what?

Chas S. Clifton said...

Good points, Heather. And maybe things are more formal back East.

Here in rural Colorado, I have seen missing-persons searches where anyone who shows up with boots on and a canteen gets to help.

And I still wonder if the sheriff or whoever does not have a side interest in getting to know these "militia" guys better while keeping an eye on them. Just a hypothesis, of course.

"How would your fire department respond to 'volunteers' who wanted to show up and run around with hoses when there was a sexy interesting structure fire ..."

Heh. Substitute "wildland" for "structure" and you would not be far from the truth. You have your core, trained group, and then you have "the rest."

Yes, I saw the Hutaree news too. Ironic, eh? But I did not think that the other Michigan Militia had a religious angle.

Heather Houlahan said...

I have led many search tasks made up of pick-up volunteers. You do what you gotta do. Some of them have been impressive in their dedication and gameness, and have quickly learned some basic skills. And I'm always happy to have a sharp local hunter or other outdoorshuman as part of a canine task -- local knowledge supplementing map data.

But there's a difference between a management decision to use individual members of the public as unskilled manpower (under the direction of trained personnel) and having groups that are not trained, accountable, or credible presented as if they were all of the above.

And when you get into specialist territory -- dogs, technical rescue, wilderness medicine, cave rescue and other special environments -- there's a whole different set of criteria that apply.

I'd be mighty worried, in light of the article about the Hutaree, that any "helpfulness" towards law enforcement from such a group is actually recon.

The tactic of murdering a member of a group in order to get a bunch more of the same group together for a funeral massacre is an old one in the annals of terrorism.

Chas S. Clifton said...

Perhaps I am more trusting, but I think a lot these guys make me think of the in cammies.

Unlike the Southern Poverty Law Center, which ran out of real enemies twenty years ago, I do not "view with alarm" quite so much.

If fantasies were felonies, we would all be doing time.