A Few Questions Regarding Chaser Assistance Protocol


Feb 11, 2012
Athens, TX
Sorry for the long post but I have searched here on ST and not found my answer to a few questions and I'd also like to gauge response to see if there is a need ...

#1. Is there any chaser protocol or established "best practices" for chasers to follow following a recent large tornado event, in a rural area, at night, insofar as searching for possible injuries at any possibly affected farm houses and such? I am not so concerned with rendering assistance inside small towns or cities where there is plenty of local help, and I'm not talking about during daytime hours when damage is typically witnessed by someone and is acted on immediately.

#2. From an emergency response management position, is there possibly a desire, wish, or need to have additional personnel (chasers who stop chasing after dark but want to provide assistance to the rural emergency response community) who are properly coordinated and equipped to assist with a post tonadic "recon" services in rural, remote areas, at night? And in a way that does not interfere with LE and other emergency responders but actually guides them and does much of the "recon" work … to go farm-by-farm along a tornado's path to see if there are any who need help. (I'm assuming in devastated locations land-lines are out and many cell phones are lost or damaged so personal visits are required to verify safety)

I know a lot of the better equipped and trained chasers do this sort of work today either voluntarily or are asked to by LE but I'm looking to maybe expand this and to have more chasers actually be pro-active in a "recon" action that is highly effective due to sheer numbers, and a small amount of protocol.

I ask these basic questions to gauge the responses if any. I may be working on a solution that doesn't have a problem so I won't elaborate at this point but the idea I have is fairly comprehensive but is actually "simple" and not overly demanding of or costly to participants, and would only require a very simple, updated image that the NWS could easily provide through NOAA and AllisonHouse. Maybe generally speaking, rural area injuries are not common enough to require any concerted "search & rescue" operation by anyone other than local LE and emergency personnel? But other services could be provided by chasers following late-evening and nighttime events (including dangerous , severe wind events) such as placing strobe beacons to alert downed trees and power lines blocking roads, as well as of course phoning these issues in. (and these strobe beacons could somehow be "recycled" back to the chasers)

Furthermore, the scenario I imagine this need to be warranted does not happen often. A scenario that I'm planning for might be something like a tornado goes through Cherokee, OK and does extensive damage to several blocks of houses at 20:30. It is a long-track EF-3 or 4 monster and continues on NE'd into rural areas. emergency personnel are consumed with dealing with the damage in town, so who provides needed services to perhaps the several farmhouses that might be destroyed 5 miles NE of Cherokee? Who will be able to respond to their call or rescue needs? (if they can call) How does a group effectively and quickly canvas large, remote swaths of farmland, in the dark, for injured people in need of immediate assistance? I think I have some ideas that could be easily implemented by the chaser community to meet this need, but perhaps a system is already in place that I'm not privy to.

Or do we assume most in rural areas (particularly in the plains states) have storm shelters and sense enough to use them and they will be fine following even a direct hit? Or, does the very remote chance that someone MAY be injured and incapacitated not warrant a full, 8 mile, winding tornado path search, at night? I just want to be realistic and I don't have statistics to guide my thinking so I'm asking for input.

Anyway, after reading some of the stories where some convergence issues may be giving chasers a bad reputation, I was looking for ways to actually provide rural areas a valuable, coordinated, and expansive service in the wake of major nighttime tornado events in rural areas as a way to show a tangible benefit to having chasers in their backyard during key daytime event days that continue into the night even more dangerous and widespread. Thanks for your consideration.
That sounds like a great idea, not quite sure how to implement it, however with the icom d-star ham radios that are available i hear one can transfer data rather quickly with them... i have yet to buy one so not real sure how it works but im sure another chaser has one and can give their opinion.
I wouldn't consider the following a valid critique necessarily but these are the issues I thought of when reading your post. I wish we could count on everyone to be 'salt of the earth' and know their weather Ps and Qs, but I think your suggestion has merit because not everyone can always be prepared and not everyone has access to shelter during severe events; and even then shelter can be destroyed.

However, I think your question comes down to qualifications. Whether you build a system or no, ES/LE's rely upon accredited professionals to determine what to do in emergencies. Short of a certification/accreditation system of sorts it would be very difficult to put any apparatus such as you suggest into actual practice with the blessing of ES/LE. In my area at least, storm spotters must be accredited; walk-ons are ignored because the quality of their information is suspect. So in some likelihood, the people you'd be asking to participate would already be participating as a part of a fully coordinated response apparatus.

My opinion is that stopping to render assistance is the duty of people who are able and qualified. Allowing victims to use your cell phone, rendering simple medical assistance if needed, and reporting areas of devastation to 911 dispatch or via a radio are invaluable practices in emergencies. The qualification thing comes into play quite heavily in this situation though. My knowledge of SOP is not exhaustive, however I know firsthand that the Red Cross actively discourages untrained people from taking part in first responder activities of any kind. In fact, they prohibit their trained members from responding without having been directly requested to do so. The range of possible hazards and medical issues one might encounter places any victim who is in the hands of an untrained, non-medical or support personnel at a distinct disadvantage, as well as placing the safety of said responder in jeopardy.

Will this network enter FCC territory? Have you considered the issue of insurance? Nobody likes insurance, but if you're providing information on that level you should be prepared for a lawsuit from the people whose wrecked house wasn't found until a week after the sweep went by, especially if ES/LE become reliant on the system you propose.

Will the people you expect to be able to support this system have the necessary expertise to relay accurate information, and if not, how can you change that, if possible?

My perception of this is that ES/LE people DO desire coherent support from the public and especially from knowledgeable communities like chasers, but they lack a means to coordinate and especially validate the information the public provides--there is no certification system for chasers. If you could come up with a reliable system for providing that coordination/guaranteed reliability of information within a situational framework where cell phone towers and landlines have been destroyed and radio is the only communication possibility, and without confusing the existing system--which isn't unified by any means despite our 'digital age'--I'm absolutely positive it would be appreciated. Pretty big hurdles, though.

As for road hazard strobes, what would they would cost? Would they be epileptic friendly (serious question, absolutely)? Who would be qualified to place them and how? Who would pay for them, how they would be distributed, who would pick them up after use? What would those people be paid? If they were wireless transmitters how they would be powered and to which kind of network would they relay? What about the issues of battery disposal and charging? How would they be retrieved, and what if they were never returned because they washed away or sightseers picked them up as souvenirs? Disposability could be an option, albeit an unpopular one in some peoples' minds especially if they're sold by the 20-pack and every chaser has a hundred in their car at the beginning of the chase and zero at the end. But again we're talking about support.

It's likely that whatever system you're devising won't be allowed to piggy-back on the ES/LE system and it would need a fairly wide network of people-assets in the form of at least a passive support structure of pros or very knowledgeable amateurs spread across all of tornado alley, as well as people familiar with the locations in question--in short you'd have to be able to call up the reserves; in this situation it seems to me like we'd have to call the whole internet to get that system working. Who would those reserves be? There are a lot of people who 'chased' for a season or just a single storm, only to find they didn't really have the guts or the expertise to continue. Those people may be unable to provide useful support even though they want to.

I know this will sound like parroting the party line, but the people in ES/LE I know strongly recommend avoiding areas which have been affected by the most severe weather events, because of the likelihood of becoming another victim and further diverting resources from the system. ES/LE know who their people are, how many there are, where they're being sent--at least in general terms--what they are capable of, and the time they left the station. They don't know any of that information about you and I; so if we get stuck in a culvert next to a washout we might never be found if nobody else is on that radio channel you’re broadcasting.

One thing to consider is that unless we're talking about extraordinary storm activity, the path of destruction will have bordering, less affected areas with populations who are familiar with the target areas and their residents. Those people will likely be first on the scene anyway, and have direct knowledge of who is missing and who is hurt, knowledge you or I would lack if we were out of our home towns. We might impede them getting to their destination because they have to help us dig out of a muddy road.

As for canvassing large remote areas in the dark, the SOP for LE and ES is to respond immediately unless the situation is overwhelmingly dangerous, in which case they wait until morning unless they have specific information. Large rural areas are often surveyed by air. Seeing a washed out bridge on mud a second too late at only 35 mph can still kill everyone in a car. A firetruck-load of dead first responders is worthless.

The last thing I have to add is, how would you know you weren't canvassing an area ES/LE had already swept?

All in all I agree with your position that there could/should be a civilian support network, but I think the logistics and the possible interference with the established system will probably make it impractical. I do wish you the best though, and I hope you've taken my comments as points of consideration and not as refutation. If you build it, as they say, they will come. Good luck!
Was called out of the country for a few days and just got back so couldn't follow up ... I suppose a bunch of "out-of-towners" have no business "trespassing" all over the countryside. Essentially, I find it a shame that hundreds of chasers who are eager to be of assistance once the daytime chase ends are essentially either in the way or are not utilized during those rare widespread nighttime outbreaks that completely overwhelm ES/LE. And yes, neighbors will probably get the job done more efficiently and effectively ... so long as they are aware a very destructive, long-track twister passed within a half mile of them, in the dark.
Join a CERT team locally and get the standardized training. Then you can be useful to the damaged area CERT team, and the protocols will be familiar.