People: Searching for the lost

John Yue, Chartered MCSI, regularly steps outside his comfort zone to help locate vulnerable missing persons
by Lora Benson MCIPR, CISI head of media

London Search & Rescue
LinkedIn – London Search & Rescue
Facebook – LONSARUK
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Research by the Office for National Statistics shows that construction workers are more than three times likely to take their own lives. It’s a statistic that John Yue, Chartered MCSI, finance director at Quilter Cheviot Investment Management, is grimly familiar with as a frontline volunteer with London Search & Rescue (LONSAR).

LONSAR is a registered charity and is run entirely by volunteers. It operates what is known as a Lowland Rescue Service, covering the territory between mountains and seas. Lowland Rescue teams have been around for years, with almost 2,000 volunteers across the UK and 35 search and rescue (SAR) units covering most counties, working in close symbiosis with the emergency services. LONSAR is the newest addition to the Lowland Rescue network, established at the end of 2017 to assist the Metropolitan Police. The team became fully operational in November 2018.

John became involved in early 2019 after stumbling across the LONSAR website while planning a holiday. “I had been looking for something that would take me outside my usual professional environment. I signed up for an introductory meeting and by June 2019, after five months of classroom-based training and practical sessions and a simulated search, I passed the initial assessment and went on probation as a search technician, which is the first stage of qualification for operational personnel, and, as the more ‘seasoned’ members of the team would say, the ‘bag carrier!”
“With more funding in health, social care, and mental health services, there would be less need for voluntary rescue units"

John received a red alert call-out recently when his family was visiting, just as they were sitting down to eat. “It was a potential suicide case. The person had been spotted on CCTV earlier leaving a pub. Following a swift drive across London, police briefed the team that their missing person was a builder who’d abandoned his van nearby. He’d left his telephone, wallet and rings at home – typical behaviours in the case of a suicidal person. There were several dog teams and numerous foot teams. We were out searching for five hours and were told to stand down at about 2.30am. I got home at 4am and was up at 7am to do my day job. The search continued for several more days and everyone was fearing the worst, but thankfully he eventually returned home.”

Of the five callouts John has been on since becoming operational, three have had the desired outcomes. One person was located by a dog team, a 12-year old-child with Downs Syndrome was found by a search team, and a dementia patient turned up at a hospital on the opposite side of London to where they had gone missing.

In the past, those with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia used to be the number one category for a missing person. But this is being significantly overtaken by what is known as ‘despondent’ mental health cases, including suicidal people.

“It still amazes me that services such as Lowland Rescue, the Air Ambulance and the RNLI are self-funded charities. The broader issue is that with more funding in the area of health, social care, and mental health services, there would be less need for the involvement of the emergency responder and lowland rescue units.”

LONSAR enjoys a broad and diverse range of volunteers, including teachers, NHS medical staff, a taxi driver, an actor, radiologist, and even police and ex-military, plus a few current serving reservists. Many volunteers are retirees from various walks of life.

A typical foot team comprises four people: team leader, medical first responder, navigator, and radio operator. “Part of the training means that individuals need to be competent in providing first aid, be at a minimum National Navigation Award Scheme bronze standard and know the required voice procedure for use of a radio. Training also includes crime scene management, road search skills, and missing persons behaviour”. Although they work in teams, each member is expected to be self-sufficient and to fill a variety of different roles, due to the changing and dynamic nature of the searches.

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John has been volunteering with LONSAR for six months and describes his most difficult search, so far, as negotiating dark and water-logged woodlands on Halloween, looking for a despondent and potential suicide case. “I haven’t experienced the range of challenging situations many of my colleagues have encountered. Many have been involved in difficult and heartbreaking situations during searches and yet continue to help others. They are inspiring and great to work with.”

Transferrable skills between his role at Quilter Cheviot and his volunteering include “operational/project planning, briefing and debriefing, risk assessment and post operations review so that people know exactly what the goals and targets are”.

“Since joining LONSAR I’ve completed over 300 hours on live searches, training and fundraising, and PR events. It’s like having a second job. To do it properly you must be committed, and for me, you need an understanding family as it can be inconvenient when there are other plans. My employers are incredibly supportive to individuals who volunteer and are quite vocal about staff wellbeing and mental health awareness issues”.

This article is published in the May 2020 edition of The Review magazine.
Published: 27 Apr 2020
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