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EMHS UAS Team Assists in Locating Missing FSU Student

September 10, 2018

On September 9, 2018, the FSU Emergency Management and Homeland Security (EMHS) Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) team was called out to support the university police department (FSUPD) in the search for Justin Shields, an FSU student reported missing September 7.

Shields' car had been found on a dirt road bordering heavily wooded private property with his phone and wallet inside. The Leon County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) began an investigation on Friday, and conducted a search on Saturday, September 8, with the assistance of K9 search teams that had been training in the area.

FSUPD requested the EMHS UAS Team on Saturday night, to begin search operations Sunday morning. The UAS Team deployed four people to the search – Jarrett Broder, faculty; Laura Hart, Researcher and Ph.D. student; Rob McDaniel, faculty; and David Merrick, faculty and program director. The team utilized four aircraft, two of which were equipped with a thermal camera and a color camera. The team arrived at the search command post at 8:00 a.m. the following day and was assigned specific areas to search, all focused on lakes and ponds. FSUPD and the EMHS team immediately recognized the need for scent-discriminate bloodhounds, a specific type of K9 asset that had not yet been deployed or requested on the search.

Scent Evidence K9 is a locally operated firm run by Paul Coley, an FSU EMHS alumni and former FBI forensic canine handler. Scent Evidence specializes in training scent-discriminate bloodhounds and has worked and trained with the EMHS UAS team for the past three years. With urging from FSUPD and EMHS, Scent Evidence was requested on Sunday morning and deployed three personnel and two K9s shortly after noon. Prior to arriving at the search location, the Scent Evidence team and law enforcement collected scent articles from Shields' apartment. These fresh articles provided the necessary information to the trailing bloodhounds.

The UAS Team conducted search flights over and around a lake and marsh area before being recalled to the command post at 11:30 a.m. From there, they were assigned a new search area where additional information had been collected indicating Shields' presence. The team re-deployed with LCSO, FSUPD, and Florida Fish and Wildlife officers and began a coordinated search of a lake near the new location. In coordination with a helicopter from the LCSO Aviation Unit, the team cleared shoreline, swamp, and other high-probability areas.

Once the Scent Evidence team arrived on location, the UAS team split its mission, with one UAS being tasked to support the K9 team and one UAS continuing to search high-probability areas.

The combined efforts of all teams and law enforcement brought this search to a happy and successful close when the student was found, unharmed but disoriented and possibly suffering dehydration. The operation demonstrated the value of combined/coordinated search strategies that have been practiced and developed in advance. The Scent Evidence K9, FSUPD, and UAS relationship allowed for fast, efficient, and safe search tactics in heavily wooded terrain and allowed Shields to be found with minimal delay. EMHS is proud to be part of the FSU team and thanks LCSO and all the agencies, organizations, and volunteers that came out to help find Justin.

The FSU Emergency Management and Homeland Security Program is an academic program located in the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy. EMHS also operates the Center for Disaster Risk Policy, an applied research center focused on disaster management and public safety projects since 1997.



(Standing from left): Jarrett Broder - FSU EMHS; Captain Jason Trumbower – FSUPD; Paul Coley, SEK9 CEO (FSU EMHS Alumni); Rob McDaniel – FSU EMHS; Chief David Perry – FSUPD; David Merrick – FSU EMHS; (kneeling) Will Hall - SEK9 (FSU EMHS Alumni); Deputy Chief Terri Brown – FSUPD; K9 Rex; Not pictured: Laura Hart, FSU EMHS and FSU Ph.D. Student. (Photo courtesy Scent Evidence)