Search and Rescue Competency-based Training by SOS MEDITERRANEE

Rescue is moving people from a place of danger to a place of safety, but the process is also reducing the risks” – Max, Search & Rescue Manager

SOS MEDITERRANEE has been active in mass rescues of people in distress in the central Mediterranean Sea for the past 3 years. Throughout these years, SOS MEDITERRANEE has capitalised and standardised their procedures to conduct lifesaving operations at sea. The knowledge and experience gained from rescues in the central Mediterranean has led SOS MEDITERRANEE to pilot a specialised Search and Rescue (SAR) competency-based training for its search and rescue team members.

The training was held in Marseille from the 1st March and ended on the 13th March 2019, with a total participation of 15 search and rescue team members and Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) staff.

The beginning of the thought process that led to this training was [the] different model of rescues that we conduct, where the response to risks don’t necessarily exist in other contexts” says Max, manager of the search and rescue team of SOS MEDITERRANEE. For example, the main risks you can face in a mass rescue are the ones of drowning and crushing (when a boat breaks apart the space of the people inside reduces leading to crushing). Max explains that crowd-control is key to reduce panic of death as much as possible in order to stabilise the situation and avoid crushing or drowning.

A mass rescue entails a large-scale rescue where many people are at risk of life at sea. Such operations need a unique approach where standard procedures would enable the rescuers to best deal with a multitude of risks. Thus, the main focus for this training was to allow the teams to face a mass rescue situation with a structure and a concept behind them. Because, as Max explains “I didn’t have that privilege when I started this… The transmission of the information is important to mainly allow people […] to reach the point [of] professionalism we have gotten to”.

The training consisted of an initial training to the search and rescue trainers by UK external expert on search and rescue Howard Raam, on setting standards to technical skills and procedures, teaching theory and practice, as well as performing a training in a certain routine/pattern with a methodology that can be repeatable and standard. Soft skills concepts such as new leadership styles, the essentiality of clear mission briefings and debriefings were also introduced.

Howard, has been interested in what is going on in the Mediterranean, thinking that the drowning figures are very high and stating that if you are a search and rescue professional working in this arena, the politics are not important. “Every life is a life and every person deserves the opportunity to be saved”, says Howard. “How people arrived in this situation, what their background is, what their motivations are, their ethnicity is, actually [are] broadly irrelevant, and it’s important that people can step forward and try to do what they can about it”. – Howard says that “in this training we focus on the things that we can really influence bringing a clear structure to help the rescuers understand what happened, why it happened and how we can improve. It is important to keep rescuers safe and professional to enable them to continue rescuing people in distress at sea”, Howard adds.

The second part of the training was based on a Competency-based Training (CoBT) manual drafted by some of SOS MEDITERRANEE’s most experienced rescuers. This manual consists of a documentation of the technical expertise of SOS MEDITERRANEE in regard with mass rescues at sea and SAR activities in general. Following the theoretical part of the workshop, exercises took place with lifeboats at sea, where the rescuers improved their driving, maneuvering, leaderships skills and safety, in a standardised process.

Structuring everything, showing ways a mass rescue should be dealt with, is important not only for ourselves but also for the newcomers and for other organisations. Thus everything has to be documented in a certain way so it can be taught to other people”, says Charlie – SAR member of SOS MEDITERRANEE. Another SAR member, Viviana, adds that “the training was also a way to refresh what we experienced at sea and a way to keep the team together through a team-building process”.

The SOS MEDITERRANEE teams are currently looking for a ship that will be able to carry out mass rescue operations. To continue to save, protect and testify, under the best possible conditions, despite a context at sea that may be adverse. “As soon as we can we’ll go out there again! We have to be there since people are continuing to drown”, says Charlie. “Our objective in our job here is to go back at sea and continue rescuing people”, ends Viviana.


Find out more about the training in Max´s – SOS MEDITERRANEE search and rescue manager- video.


Photo credits: Federica Mameli