"The Titanic was the first recorded massive search-and-rescue event," said Bruce Reid, CEO of the International Maritime Rescue Federation. "And people thought that [it was so safe that] it was never going to sink, that there was no way it could go under. Even though we work hard to improve safety standards, there's always the risk of an accident."
However, since accidents are so few and far between, preparing for them is challenging.
"We can prepare through planning and practices and trials, but what actually happens when you're on the water is when you really learn," Reid said.
Coordination of a large-scale search-and-rescue effort is key, he said. Linking nearby boats (vessels of opportunity), helicopters, the local coast guard, rescue boats, medical teams and shore side response requires advanced logistics. And when time is not a luxury, and sea conditions are not cooperating, it pushes the importance of working together.
"The massive complexity of a mass search and rescue is that there are multiple layers of infrastructures that may not have worked together in the past," he said.