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Episode 73: Lost in the Mountains of Michigan: FirstNet's essential role in search and rescue


August 08, 2023
When an eight-year-old boy went missing in Michigan's sprawling Porcupine Mountains, an extensive search and rescue operation was initiated. Darian Reed, President of Superior Search and Rescue, shared that broadband and data service support from FirstNet was pivotal in successfully and safely recovering the child.


Paul Ebel, FirstNet Authority Senior Public Safety Advisor  

Darian Reed, Superior Search and Rescue President



Episode 73 | Lost in the Mountains of Michigan: FirstNet's essential role in search and rescue

NARRATOR: You're listening to Public Safety First, a podcast to help you learn about the First Responder Network Authority and how you can be part of the future of public safety technology. And now, your host.

Episode 73 | Lost in the Mountains of Michigan: FirstNet's essential role in search and rescue

NARRATOR: You're listening to Public Safety First, a podcast to help you learn about the First Responder Network Authority and how you can be part of the future of public safety technology. And now, your host.

PAUL EBEL: Welcome to the Public Safety First podcast. My name is Paul Ebel and I am the senior Public Safety Advisor at the FirstNet Authority and also represent the state of Michigan for FirstNet Authority. Today, I'm talking to Darian Reed. He is president of Superior Search and Rescue in Michigan. The volunteer search and rescue team was instrumental in finding the eight-year-old boy who went missing in the Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park in May of this year. Darian, thank you so much for joining me today and welcome to the podcast.

DARIAN REED: Hey, Paul, Thank you very much. I really do appreciate you giving me the opportunity to join you on this.

PAUL EBEL: Could you start off by telling us a little bit about your background and how did you get involved in search and rescue and what services Superior Search and Rescue provides?

DARIAN REED: Yeah. So, I got involved with the team back in about 2017, 2018. That was kind of the first introduction of myself getting into the emergency response world and I found that I really enjoyed being a part of emergency response and getting involved with an organization was great. Our team's primary search and rescue, we're a nonprofit organization, emergency response agency within Houghton County. Our team is really focused in on trying to help our community, especially during search and rescue. We provided the volunteers and the management to work with law enforcement to run an incident that may occur. And our teams are all made up of volunteers, including myself. I've been running the organization since the October of 2021 when I was elected as the president of the team. And under my leadership, I've been kind of focusing on trying to work our team to be better, including better training, working with different agencies, and even pulling in assets from outside of the area to help assist when we have an incident, especially like what we had last May at the Porcupine Mountains.

PAUL EBEL: Darren, can you tell us a little bit about the particular incident? What was the emergency and how did your group get involved?

DARIAN REED: So, on May 6 of 2023, later on in the evening, we received a page out from the Michigan State Police to respond to the Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park to assist with a missing eight-year-old boy. The eight-year-old ended up walking away from his family approximately 6 to 8 hours prior to the page out and the 9-1-1 call being made. So, he had about a 6-to-8-hour head start on the first response units that were showing up on scene. The Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park is a large area. It's full wilderness. I mean, you have to hike through the area. you can't even get an ATV through most of the area. And that made it difficult from the response side of things, as team members needed to hike in and hike out of the incident, and upwards to even an hour, hour and a half, to get to where he was last seen, which was the camp that he was at. When we initially showed up on scene, one of the first things that I had the conversation with one of the state troopers that we were part of as part of a unified command, was that, you know, we're going to be needing more assets as soon as possible.

And that's when we started to make some calls and start bringing in assets from the Michigan State Police [MSP] and other search and rescue agencies in the Upper Peninsula and by the time that we got teams out in the field, we're looking at midnight, 1:00 in the in the morning, you know, and I had a quick conversation with the sergeant that I was working with from MSP and, we ended up having to make the decision of, hey, we need the mobile command post from the Michigan State Police and we're going to be needing the FirstNet cell tower for communications because that was one of the largest issues that we had on this was communications.

PAUL EBEL: You had mentioned the number of agencies responded along with the Superior Search and Rescue. Approximately how many agencies responded?

DARIAN REED: So overall, 40 different agencies were involved with the incident. And we're tracking it right now, almost 371 first responders that were involved. For coordination, this is a massive operation for our area, because All of our search and rescue teams in our region are all volunteer. Our fire departments, even our ambulance companies, they have volunteer services, you know, and then, of course, we had our law enforcement officers that were out there everybody from the local police departments that were available, to the U.S. Forest Service, including air resources from the Air National Guard out of Wisconsin and Michigan State Police Aviation Division, along with the US Coast Guard. This was a massive coordination effort and that was one of the one of the beautiful things about this incident is that everything was working great for getting teams out there, getting teams coordinated. It was probably one of the best coordination efforts that we've had in the Upper Peninsula.

PAUL EBEL: So, you're bringing all these people in, all these agencies, communication's key. How did you communicate prior to the FirstNet SATColt arriving?

DARIAN REED: So, we do use our radio communications on site, and we were running into issues with our 800 system not always having service. So, there was a lot of communication issues and then on top of that, from the management aspect of this, during the first night, we ended up pulling out two paper maps to try to coordinate and plan the search because we had no access to internet. It was at least a 20-minute drive till we had cell service to even make a phone call. Twenty-five minutes if you wanted to get, you know, even data for your phone. So, we really did run into a lot of communication issues during that first night and that first operational period until the mobile command post from MSP, along with the FirstNet portable cell tower showed up, you know, and once those units did show up, we were able to quickly switch over from our paper maps that we were using, to our digital mapping system.

Once we were able to make that switch, then we were also able to integrate team tracking, determining where everybody was out in the field and including even getting their tracks. So, as soon as they came back to the staging area, we knew what was searched by that team immediately. So, it was able to quickly get that team refreshed and put right back out in the field. Because we didn't really need to do that full debriefing of, hey, where did you search on a map? We knew exactly where they were at because of this. You know, just the ability to be able to do that helped, our response. You know, instead of having to worry about did we really check an area, we knew for a fact that a team did go through an area because we had their tracks from their GPS's that they had with them and from their cell phones that we were able to quickly pull that data.

PAUL EBEL: 370ish responders from the 40 plus agencies, that sounds like quite the challenge to coordinate. So, Darian, what does it mean to have reliable broadband and data connections? What difference did it did it make for this incident?

DARIAN REED: For this incident we went from having to work from two paper maps to having access to all of our computers, our incident management system, and our mapping. It really showed that we were able to quickly get this incident on track and get everybody on the same understanding. I mean, we had teams that were showing up and they could immediately look at the map and go realize, okay, this is what the area looks like. And then on top of that, even getting personnel checked in was a lot quicker because we were able to quickly get them typed up into our management system and start tracking their time that they were on the incident. We got to the point where a team would show up, and within 15 minutes that team had their team leader identified, they had their location of where they were searching, and they were heading out to the field. We had four teams that showed up back-to-back to back, and immediately we were able to quickly get them checked in, tasked, and sent out to the field.

PAUL EBEL: Sounds like a game changer.

DARIAN REED: Very, very much of a big game changer, especially on this incident. You know, we were running against a clock, like I said, by the time that we got there, as part of the initial response, he already had about eight-hour head start on responders. And then there was another hour for us to get a team out to where he was last seen. So, we were running against a clock on this entire incident to try to locate him. And, you know, I'm very thankful that we were able to locate him, on day two of our search. we were able to locate him alive and bring him back.

PAUL EBEL: You know, Upper Peninsula, Michigan is pretty desolate. The weather, in that area, especially on May 6th at the nighttime, I know in the location where I'm at, we had received some snow on May 1st. Did you still have snow on the ground?

DARIAN REED: Yeah. So, we do get a lot of snow up in our area. Early May, we still have snow on the ground. some of the areas still had a ton of snow out in the Porcupine Mountains. There was even a road that was still inaccessible due to snow cover. So, that did impact teams inserting in from the north side of the Porcupine Mountains, so we had to focus on coming in all of our teams from the South just because the one road that does run through the porkies was just inaccessible for any vehicle to get through. And then, of course, that did make it a little bit difficult because there was still snow melt. There's so much water that's flowing through there. It's very rapid water movement. So, we did have to worry about that from a safety aspect.

PAUL EBEL: So, the best of all possible outcomes, day two of the search, you're able to locate the child. Now that you've seen FirstNet in action, how do you anticipate the network could help you in the future with search and rescue missions?

DARIAN REED: So, in our area, the upper Peninsula, you know, there's a lot of dead zones from cell service. And we've been noticing that a lot of these incidents end up occurring in these areas just because people aren't able to get a hold of 9-1-1 or they may lose track of where they're at. So, we really have to focus on that area, on bringing in more assets. This was the first time that we've ever used during an incident, a portable FirstNet cell tower and we were extremely impressed with it, because we ended up making the call around 11:00 midnight on that first night of the call of the incident. And within about 12 hours, we had our cell tower there. It was just the response that we were able to quickly get was amazing. Even on top of that, just getting this equipment up here, we like I said, we've never done it before and it was such a smooth and easy process. Once they showed up, they got their equipment set up and we were up and running within about 15, 20 minutes.

PAUL EBEL: That’s amazing. Darren, is there anything else you'd like to share with our listeners?

DARIAN REED: You know, I really wanted to share that this is one of the biggest coordinated efforts that we've had in the Upper Peninsula. You know, a lot of the work that we've been trying to do over the last few years really showed on this this incident. We never worked on an incident with this many agencies and this many responders that were on scene. Like I said, 40 agencies, over 370 responders that were on scene. We've never had this type of coordinated effort. And for us in our area, this is, absolutely beautiful to see and really shows how our community really comes together.

PAUL EBEL:  Thank you and Superior Search and Rescue for everything you do every day. I appreciate you joining me today, and I hope you have a great day.

DARIAN REED: Thank you very much, Paul. I appreciate it and thanks for the opportunity to come on the show.

NARRATOR: Thanks for listening today. We're excited to have you join our podcast community. Make sure to subscribe  on iTunesSoundCloud, and YouTube. You can learn more about the First Responder Network Authority at and learn about FirstNet products and services at