Ever wondered what happens when someone calls out a cave rescue team, what the correct protocols are if you need to dial 999 or just how do we know when someone needs rescuing underground? Lets take a look at a best practice example of a group of cavers going on a fairly standard sports caving trip.
Before the Trip
The leader of the trip will have finalised the details of the trip and left a ‘Call Out’ with someone not going underground (husband/wife/friend etc..) , if they have not received contact saying the party is safe by a specified time they must call Cave Rescue. Some caving club huts operate a similar chalk board system but cavers need to be sure someone will be around to check call outs!
A Call Out in its simplest form consists of
- Who: The leaders name, a contact number and total number of people in the party and which cars are expected to be there
- Where: What Cave/Mine – and which routes or entrances if it is a large system
- When: What time they expect to go underground
- Call Out Time: This is the time that, should contact not be made with the caving party that the person responsible needs to Dial 999
Remember, if your caving plans change at the last moment, change you call out details!
Time to Call Cave Rescue
Our responsible person, Lets call him Steve, is just starting to watch casualty and realised the call out time that the group had set was 8PM and so far he has not heard from his wife who is leading the trip. First he calls her mobile phone and a couple of other numbers he has of the friends she is caving with but receives no answer.
- Steve gets the Call Out info ready, as well as writing down his own phone number so he can pass it to the operator
- Steve Dials 999 and asks the operator for the police and is swiftly greeted with “whats your emergency”
- State clearly that you need cave rescue, in an ideal world every operator would know immediately what to do but the volume of calls for cave rescue (Thankfully!) just don’t happen and Steve’s operator is not immediately aware of cave rescue and suggests the fire service, but Steve knows a bit about Cave Rescue and insists on cave rescue and soon the operator has the right protocol
- The police operator will take basic details from you, including your contact details and end the call with you – Be ready for a call back, do not block the line by calling other people a this point and if you do receive any calls you should try and keep the line clear If your on your mobile phone save the battery!
First Contact to the team
The Police, our calling authority will open an incident on their system and call the Duty Controller to pass on the information from the 999 call. The Duty controller then calls’ Steve back direct with any questions he/she has that they feel may be relevant to our response. After talking to steve our response may be asking the police or local team members to check for the parked cars or initiating a Team Call-Out. In this example the cars are in the parking spot with no cavers present so its time to call out the Team. The Duty Controller tasks another controller/leader to activate the SARCALL system (a text message based system used to manage team members availability and response to an incident). whilst they sort out the Vehicle and any other specialist kit that may be needed from base
The Call Out Begins
Our team members, all volunteers, may receive either a standby or a call out message depending on the appropriate response, this may mean they have to leave a child’s birthday party, abandon the supermarket shop (and sometimes the wife and kids!), leave work or sometimes we may get lucky and have just finished caving nearby.
In Steve’s case we would hope they are simply overdue, and we wont be needing any of our specialist skills or equipment but just in case we would always roll out the Van and a large enough team to start any rescue, its not uncommon to see a cave rescue stretch over two days.