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Decision-making within missing person search

Harrington, Kyle; Brown, Michael; Pinchin, James; Sharples, Sarah

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Michael Brown

Professor of Human Factors


This paper reports the findings of a series of interviews with search and rescue volunteers. Participants were asked to recall accounts of particular incidents which involved searching for a missing adult who could be considered ‘vulnerable’. The purpose of this study was to discover what types of decisions are made during missing incidents; including a consideration of the factors which affect these decisions and the main focuses of attention throughout the incident. Such an understanding may help to shed light on best practices which could inform decision-making support tools for families of the missing and identify the user-requirements of a future technology designed to help find missing people. Interviews were conducted using the critical decision method (CDM) to elicit specific information about the decisions and challenges faced by search and rescue teams during missing person searches. Critical decision points were identified and sequenced for each incident. Emergent thematic analysis (EMA) was applied to the transcripts to identify themes across various incidents; these themes were explored in detail using a mixed-method approach. This study builds upon the methodological approach of CDM using a two-tiered approach to analysis which seeks to discover the focus of practitioners’ attention as they progress through missing person searches. A decision-sequence diagram was created to clearly show the sequence of each decision and trends across all incidents; a table was produced to show the relative importance of each aspect across decisions. Finally, strengths and weaknesses of this approach to incident analysis are discussed.


Harrington, K., Brown, M., Pinchin, J., & Sharples, S. (2018). Decision-making within missing person search. Cognition, Technology and Work, 20(4), 665-680.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 13, 2018
Online Publication Date Aug 30, 2018
Publication Date 2018-11
Deposit Date Nov 1, 2018
Publicly Available Date Nov 1, 2018
Journal Cognition, Technology & Work
Print ISSN 1435-5558
Electronic ISSN 1435-5566
Publisher Springer Verlag
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 20
Issue 4
Pages 665-680
Keywords Philosophy; Human-Computer Interaction; Computer Science Applications
Public URL
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