Sunday, February 12, 2012

CASARA, A Recap Before Continuing

I've been writing about my experiences with CASARA since December 14th, so it is about time for a short recap to summarize the story so far before I carry on. All my articles are collected on this page.

Three members of a CASARA unit started out with a complete misconception of how one of the standard electronic search techniques work. They blended in a naive approach to radio communications and completely ignored of the effects of the curvature of the earth. A search and rescue flat earth society if you will. This mix collided with the human susceptibility to pareidolia, the tendency to perceive patterns that are not really there. The man in the moon, the face on Mars, the Martian canals and dowsing are all examples of pareidolia. They developed no scientific theory or engineering support for their ideas; found no published papers to support their conclusions, and in fact actually collected data that disproves their opinions, but it seems they never checked the data. Without scientific backing they can not be anything but unfounded, unsupported and disproved opinions. This is interesting since, during my conflict with the three (including the unit Director) I was forbidden to voice my opinion even though I am a professional signals analyst with over thirty years experience and science not only informs but supports my professional opinion. They used these unfounded, unsupported and disproved opinions to develop their own electronic search techniques which they call an Augmentation to the Aural Null, and the Cardinal Pass. They then used these techniques not only during training, but also when called to look for activated ELTs which, for all they could know at the time, could have been crashed airplanes. No standard scientific method tests of the efficacy of these techniques were ever undertaken. If they had they would certainly have noticed that the collected data discredited the techniques. To people with knowledge, experience and skill in the technology the flaws in their thinking are immediately clearly apparent. How much hubris, what kind of arrogance does it take to put the life of another on the line for a theory without even checking the data? What kind of impact does that kind of hubris and arrogance have on operational effectiveness?

So, how did it come about that they could continue to pursue these techniques and even convince the president of CASARA Ontario and the president of CASARA National that at least one of them was "very knowledgeable"? To understand that you must know the other side of the story. So far I have confined myself mostly to the technical side of the coin. Now I will start in with the leadership, management, policy and financial side. I'll get into how I was instructed to include these techniques in training materials that were to be presented to a CASARA Provincial Training Conference; how I have been threatened with legal action; how I was accused of contravention of the CASARA harassment policy, but never given a chance to answer those allegations (as required by the policy), nor indeed ever officially informed of them (also a requirement of the policy); how I was given a gag order to prevent me from talking about the failings of the techniques; how when I refused to take a training mission for safety reasons I was told that I had no excuse not to take the mission (the person who said that to me is now the unit safety officer); and how, when I reported this to the unit Director she said I was making unfounded accusations against valuable members, even though she never talked to me about the events of the day. And much more. I'm not happy to have to do this, but I see no other way to be sure uninformed opinion, hubris and arrogance won't endanger lives in the future, or put someone else in the position I found myself, of choosing between continuing to serve in CASARA and the safety of others.

There has been a lot of public discussion about the effectiveness of the Canadian Search and Rescue system after the tragic death of Burton Winters, including calls for the government to do a full investigation. My respect for and faith in the men and women in uniform who provide Search and Rescue service is unbounded. But they are finite, and can't be everywhere. It seems natural to increase the participation of CASARA as was announced last fall. Who knows how the outcome may have changed if the civilian searchers, and helicopter crews looking for Burton had the knowledge of the RCAF SAR system that well trained CASARA members have. Unfortunately, if CASARA members are able to make up and use search techniques without the responsibility to ensure they are sound and effective, and if high levels of the organization are willing to support these members without doing their own due diligence, then how long will it be until we are faced with similar tragedies in the arctic, or where ever CASARA takes on first-responder duties?

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