athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
Yesterday was my turn to plan a training for Gateway Search Dogs, a group to which I belong. It's a bunch of people who train their dogs to find lost people. We're available for callout by local, state, or federal authorities; a lot of smaller police and fire departments don't have the resources to have their own search dogs, and they believe (quite probably rightly) that their money is better spent on equipment and training that's more generally applicable. So that's where we come in.

Anyway, I decided to do a scenario problem (we do a few of these a year, although most trainings are just those where the various dog handlers and ground-pounders tell the trainers what they want to work on, and the trainers set up those exercises). The setup was this:

Hank Riley, his buddy Jim Ireland, Hank's girlfriend Tiffany Turnipseed, and two other friends named Martin and Jason, had, last Wednesday evening, gone up to the TV tower at the top of Charbonier Bluff at the north end of St. Stanislaus Conservation Area, to drink beer and hang out.

After a few beers, a minor tiff ensued between Hank and Tiffany, and the party split up to go its separate ways; Hank was parked at the south parking lot, and everyone else at the east parking lot. The other four left hank with the last two beers at the TV tower.

Hank didn't show up at their usual Thursday night hangout, a local bar where they'd meet to play trivia. Calls to his cellphone went to voicemail. Friday morning, TIffany had begun to become a little concerned, and called Trader Joe's where Hank worked, only to find out his sorry ass had just been fired, because he hadn't shown up for work Thursday or Friday, and had offered no explanation. On her lunch break she went by the south parking lot and saw that his car was still there. She called the police, who called Gateway Search Dogs to work on Saturday morning.

So, given this setup, I presumed that the other people in the unit were expecting about a 2/3 probability that Hank, played by Stinky Sam (our training dummy in whom we often hide cadaver source), would be found dead of some misadventure at the bottom of a ravine or something, and about 1/3 that I'd have someone playing Hank, pretending to be injured, in a similar location.

But I fooled 'em.

Wednesday, I had gone to the park with my buddy Martin, and we had walked up to the TV tower, and then back down the trail to a place where there was a little opening in the underbrush, which opened out into a sheltered space big enough to stand up in, which had part of an old concrete culvert and some concrete slabs in it. We'd gone in there and hung out to get it all scented. I'd gotten a baseball cap and an empty cigarette pack from Martin.

Saturday morning, I started below the TV tower and left the following clues on the path between the TV tower and the little nook in the underbrush: a can of beer just below the fork that went off to the east parking lot, the empty cigarette pack by a big tree just off the path, the lighter on the path a bit farther down, and the second empty beer can where Hank had left the path. In the fairly tight wriggle from the path into the enclosed space, I'd left the baseball cap and an old cell phone, so the clues were reasonably reconstructable. Hank sauntered down from the tower, discarded his first empty, opened his second beer, stopped a bit farther along to pee on a tree, took the last cigarette out of the pack and tossed the pack, continued along down the path, had lost the lighter a few dozen yards later (I guess he put it into that tiny little right hand side pocket you have in jeans, only he didn't push it far enough down), and then came across lights and people-sounds in the woods off the path. He decided to go investigate in case there was another party there, finished his beer, dropped the can, and then headed towards the party, knocking his hat off and losing his phone in the process.

But what had happened then?

Well, the other stuff I put in that clearing Saturday morning was as follows:

A can of Red Devil lye
Four lithium AA batteries
A bunch of matchbooks with the strikers ripped off
Two 20-oz Gatorade bottles with a pinkish liquid and some sediment in them
A can of starter fluid
Some tubing
An empty milk jug
An empty styrofoam cooler

I also put Stinky Sam, dressed in clothes matching Tiffany's description of what Hank was wearing, with a buck knife in his chest, half-assedly concealed in the culvert pipe.

Thus the scenario was this: slightly drunk guy decides to investigate what sounds like a party. Stumbles into a bunch of people cooking meth. They stab him and skedaddle.

So it was a curveball: the group would think they were searching for a missing person, and would discover, instead, a crime scene. It's a crime scene that's depressingly common in the Missouri woods (well, not the stabby part, but the meth lab part).

I was very pleased with GSD's performance. We had seven searchers (plus me in the roles of Tiffany Turnipseed and Sgt. Frank Booth, North County Sheriff's Dept., and Amy as Jim Ireland), and two dogs, Moses and Cooper, so the search unit split into two teams and each one had the plan of starting at one of the parking lot, doing a hasty trail search up to the tower, and then regrouping at the tower and doing a grid search back down the hill.

I was with Team Cooper, with three actual searchers (two experienced (Janet and Kathy, Kathy being the dog handler), and one novice (John)). Since they approached from below, they didn't come across any of the clues I'd left. Cooper had been sticking pretty close to the trail, but as we got close to the lab, he went right and headed into the woods, with Kathy following him. I presume he smelled all the human scent that had pooled there, but of course it's hard to ask him.

At any rate, Kathy followed him in and then shouted "Cooper! Down!" Then she asked Janet to carefully come up to where she was and describe what she saw. Janet looked for about ten seconds and then yelled "meth lab! Back out the way you came!"

This was exactly the correct behavior. We're not trained to deal with crime scenes, and *definitely* not trained in hazmat situations. So the right thing when you find a meth lab is to retrace your steps back out, and call the cops. It wasn't until Team Cooper was regathered on the trail and Kathy and Janet had told Ron and me what they'd found that I told them it was a fake meth lab, and, in my "Sergeant Booth" role, that I had now made it safe and they could proceed, whereupon they found the body very quickly.

Then I had the other team, which had gotten up to the tower without finding much (since Hank hadn't gone that way), run the trail from the top, and they did a good job finding the clues that led them into the brush.

Anyway, the weird thing is that this was almost exactly like Game Mastering. Thus: D&D is good for public safety. You heard it here first. It was also very gratifying to hear actual fear in Kathy's voice: it apparently looked plausibly like a meth lab, and it wasn't until I 'fessed up that she and Janet knew it wasn't real.


athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)

July 2016

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