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Communicating with the family

When you look at the problems we as public safety divers have in communicating with the victim's family, the "failure to communicate" comes up time and time again.  Every year you read and hear about families that have made complaints to the news media and/or the dive team's supervision that the team was not doing everything they could or not doing what they should be doing.  When you take a closer look into the situation, the majority of the time, the dive teams had done everything they were supposed to do but one thing, communicate properly with the family.  This lack of communication on our part can cause misunderstandings, suspicion, lack of trust, unanswered questions and doubt on the part of the family.  Some areas we can keep in mind when communicating with the victim's family are:

  • Seek out the family - Don't wait for them to find you.  When they arrive on site, introduce yourself and your team to them. This is the professional way.

  • Keep the family totally informed - Tell the family everything that is going on and what you are doing to solve the problem.  Be honest and tell them what you can and can't do and why.  Explain everything in as much detail as possible, the search patterns you're using, the environment, current, conditions, etc.  This will answer some of the questions the family has and remove some of their doubts.

  • Establish rapport - Be personable with the family.  If they see they are dealing with real people who are honestly concerned about the situation, a communications link can be established through trust.

  • Don't guess as to the outcome - Don't make predictions!  For example, if the search is not going well and you think you might have a body on the move, don't make a prediction as to when the victim will come up or where the current will take the victim. Again, be honest with them about what you know and honest with them about what you don't know.

  • Eliminate surprises - Keeping the family informed can eliminate surprises that might otherwise occur.  If you have already discussed the various possibilities with them, when one of the things discussed does happen, you look more like you know what you're doing than looking like you don't.


Be understanding and empathetic - Imagine how you would feel if you had lost a loved one in the water and had to depend on strangers to recover the body.  The emotions that are brought to a dive site are tremendous.  Your every word is being listened to.  Your every laugh or smile can be taken the wrong way.  Showing understanding of their grief is of the utmost importance and showing respect for their situation is hardly less so.  Show your professionalism at all times through your support and actions on site.

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