Site hosted by Build your free website today!

Search and Rescue: Choose Your Own Adventure

By Evan Keto. Feel free to modify and pass on, as long as credit is given. All images externally linked. Please let me know if this is a problem. Email me. Back to Evan's SAR page

A man has been reported missing after he did not return home following an overnight camping trip.

The Responsible Agent (RA, usually law enforcement) is called to determine if a search and rescue mission should be launched.

The RA has a number of different resources available to it, including the Appalachian Search and Rescue Conference (ASRC) and PVRG. Depending on where the search is, they may call either the entire ASRC (including PVRG) or PVRG individually.
Call Entire ASRC? Yes or No
Call Only PVRG? Yes or No

The ASRC has been alerted. Central Dispatch, usually located at the University of Virginia, begins alerting the member teams. Go to PVRG dispatch.

Sorry, the ASRC is not participating in this search. However, depending on the location of the search, PVRG may participate without the entire ASRC. Call PVRG independently? Yes or No

Sorry, PVRG is sitting this one out. Stay at Home.

PVRG Dispatch:
At any moment, there should be at least 2 dedicated dispatchers watching their pagers for callouts. One is the primary dispatcher, and the other is the secondary.
If the primary dispatcher is paying attention, they will pick up the page within 5 minutes, and tell the ASRC or RA that they are beginning callout. Otherwise the secondary dispatcher picks up the page, and tells ASRC that they are beginning callout. If for some reason neither is capable of picking up the page within 10 minutes, any available dispatcher picks up page, tells ASRC that they are beginning callout procedures.
Does one of the dispatchers pick up the page? Yes or No

Sorry folks, the search is delayed until a dispatcher picks up the page. That's just sad. Back to PVRG Dispatch.

The PVRG dispatcher calls each number listed on the roster, telling them the location and nature of the search, and asks if and when they'll be able to respond.
Will you be able to go? Yes or No

You can't go on a search for whatever reason. You might have a test, or a meeting, or maybe it's a further away than you're willing to go. As a volunteer, you don't have to go to any particular search.
Dispatcher: "Ok, that's fine, thank you for your time." Stay at home

Home sweet home. Study for a test, read a book, do laundry, business as usual, until the next search.

You can go on the search. You tell the dispatcher when you need to be back, if you have a car, how many people you can drive, and when you can leave.
Dispatcher-"Thanks, I'll call you back when I have all of the availabilites." Dispatch continues.

The dispatcher continues calling people, and assembles carpools. The dispatcher also talks to to ASRC dispatch, who may tell them to bring any needed supplies, like more radios or an operations kit etc. If we are the closest team to the search, it is assumed that we will need to bring all of our equipment. An overhead teamconsisting of experienced SAR personel from the closest teams will be sent to the search ASAP.

In the mean time you:
Get all your gear ready, arrange proper clothing, fill your water bottle, make sure people know where you are going, play Halo 2, watch tv etc., until the it's time to go

While PVRG dispatch is starting up, an overhead team will be on the way to the scene. (Unless PVRG has been requested to provide the overhead team, which takes time to dispatch.) This team begins to secure the point last seen, make maps, and do hasty searches of high probablity areas.
Does overhead team locate subject? Yes or No

The subject was found in the early stages and everybody stays home.

The carpool assembles at mutually determined location, the driver picks you up, or you are the driver. You toss your pack in the back, and grab a seat. Who will you be?
just a passenger

Driver-Drive safely, as quickly as safety and local law will permit. If you get tired, do not hesitate to let another experienced driver take over. Other people in the car:
just a passenger
Hit the Road

Shotgun!-It's your job to control the radio, change CD's, adjust climate, etc. so the driver
isn't too distracted. Depending on how many people are in the car, you might also be:
Other people in the car:
just a passenger
Hit the Road

Navigator-Grab the map, and read the directions, helping the driver
make all the right (and left) turns.
Other people in the car:
just a passenger
Hit the Road

Comms-Be sure to call or page in every hour to PVRG dispatch, so they know where you are and how you're doing. If there are any problems, like a popped tire or anything else, be sure to talk to dispatch to see if another team is going to be coming by and can help out.
Other people in the car:
just a passenger
Hit the Road

On this trip, you're just cargo. Enjoy the ride, and pitch in for gas money, you bum.
Other people in the car:
Hit the Road

On the road. Go through a few CD's or stations, talk about the last Terps game, keep an eye open for cheap gas, and whatever else passes the time. Make sure to call or page in to PVRG dispatch every hour so they know you're ok.

While on the road, you can:
Take a pit stop
Continue until you get to base.
Find that the search is ended/suspended.

Pit stop: Feel free to stop for food or bathroom breaks or fuel. Then get back on the road to
or from the search as needed.

If person found or search suspended while on the road, you will be alerted by pager or cell phone. Call or page in to dispatch, letting them know you got the message, and then turn around. On the road home.

On the road home:
Take a pit stop
Take a nap
Continue until you get to home.

You call dispatch and tell them that you need to take a nap. Pull over in a safe location, catch some Z's, and call dispatch when you're back on the road.

Congratulations, you've finally made it to base. This is the command center of the search, where the search is planned out, radio transmissions go out to field teams, food and supplies are gathered, and searchers wait for their next task. What to do when you get to base: Driver
Everybody else

Driver-Make sure you list your vehicle on the vehicle roster, that your Comms person has called dispatch, Sign in! and procede to Staging with everybody else in your car

Comms-Call PVRG dispatch, and let them know you arrived safe. Then sign in, and procede to Staging with the driver and everybody else in your car.

Everybody else-Wait for your Comms person to call in, and go with your driver to Sign in! Then gather all of your equipment and procede to Staging.

Staging will be an area where searchers can wait for tasks, eat, drink coffee, rest, chat, refill water bottles, etc. Be prepared to spend a lot of time here, sometimes it takes a while for tasks to be assigned. There will usually be food and drink provided by local businesses and concerned citizens, but be careful not to eat too much junk food! You can:
Eat & Drink
Talk to other people
Go help out at Base
Finally, a task!
Hmm, i think i'll head home

Wow, there's a lot of food here. Better than all those granola bars and cereal in my 24 hour pack. I think i'll have a bite or two, then:
Eat some more
Do something else in Staging

Uh oh. One slice of pizza too many. You don't feel too good, and shouldn't go into the field. Wait in staging until you feel better.

Good call. There should be couches or beds or something set up so you can take a nap or even get some real sleep. It's a good idea to bring ear plugs because sometimes it can be noisy in staging.

Hey, i think i remember those guys from a training we did a while ago. How long did it take you guys to get here? Nice headlamp!......
Hang around staging until something else comes up.

This is boring, I'm going where the action is. When i was at base, signing in, it looked like the Incident Staff could use some help with all of those papers and stuff. I'll go back to base and see how i can help them.

Incident Staff: “What are you doing? Get out of here! You're in the way! Go back to staging!”

The staging officer comes in, and has a field task. "We need a ______!"
Ground search team
Dog Team walk along
Signcutter walk along
Evacuation team

Ground Search Team
The purpose of a ground team is to walk through an area, and look for the missing subject or clues that will lead to the subject. Every ground team has the following jobs, though one person can perform multiple jobs:
Field Team Leader (FTL)
Radio Operator
Medical Officer

There are three main ground search tasks:
Hasty Search
Sweep Search
Grid Search

Start Ground task
Back to Tasks

The field team leader is resonsible for the team, and is the best qualified member available. They may have to work with non-SAR personel, including volunteers, military, firefighters, or law enforcement members. They must make sure they know where the team is at all times, double checking the navigator, and ensure search is proceding correctly and safely.
Back to Ground search teams

The Radio operator stays in contact with the base radio, using a mobile radio and ASRC protocols.
Back to Ground search teams

The team navigator is largely responsible for knowing where the team is at all times using map and compass. His or her work will be checked periodically by the team leader.
Back to Ground search teams

The team medical officer is the member with the highest current medical certification. This may range from basic first aid and CPR all the way up to a medical doctor.
Back to Ground search teams

Hasty Search-You've been selected to perform a quick search of a roughly linear feature where the person will probably be, like a road, or trail, or ridgeline. Keep your eyes open for footprints, discarded materials, and for the missing person. Back to Ground search teams

Your team (2 to 4 people for a hasty, 7-10 for a sweep, more for a grid) assembles in staging. All of you procede to base. The FTL is briefed on the ground search task, and receives maps, and a radio from Logistics, while you wait outside. The FTL then fills you in about who you're looking for, and the nature of the task. One person is assigned to be the navigator, one takes the radio, and whoever is highest qualified becomes the medical officer. You start on your task. Continue

While on the task, you check for any clues, take note of any potential hazards for following teams, keep track of your position, and report in periodically to base. You snack to keep energy levels up, drink plenty of water, and adjust clothing to stay warm or cool.
Then, you start to feel a little bad.

You're a little bit dizzy. Your heel is starting to get a little warm, too. But the task is almost over, right?
What do you do?
Keep on going, i can take it.
I better stop the team and talk to the FTL.

You go on for another half hour or so, getting slightly more dizzy. You keep on going, getting a headache, and eventually you throw up. You think you're also getting a blister on your heel. The FTL comes over, and notices you're looking pretty bad. The team has to turn around and return to staging.

You stop and tell the FTL, who responds, "Dude, you're going to get a blister. Good thing you stopped early, or else that would turn nasty. I've got some moleskin to put on that. Everybody, stop and take a drink." You rest for a little while, put the moleskin on the hotspot and then are good to go. Continue

You continue searching your area, scanning for anything that looks strange. Then, in the leaves ahead, is a dark object you can't quite make out. It looks like a clue!

You found a clue!
This looks like a glove, quite possibly dropped by the missing hiker. Other clues could a footprint, broken branches, candy wrappers, cigarette butts, discarded bottles, anything. You yell "Stop!", and the FTL comes over to see what you've found.

The FTL then decides if the find is anything important. For instance, a 20 year old soda bottle with moss inside it is not a clue, nor is a deer footprint. The FTL tells the navigator to plot the exact location of the team, (which should be easy if they've been keeping track all along) and asks the radio operator to contact base. Everybody else on the team stays put, so you know where to begin if base tells you to continue on the task. Now's a good time to have a snack or drink some water.

The clue has been phoned in. Base has told you to flag the area around the clue using fluorescent tape, and to put it in one of your many garbage bags, and bring it back to base. There, they will look at the clue, and restructure the search strategy to make use of this new information. Continue.

The Sweep Search is a common search task which requires more people than a hasty, and is designed to cover a large area of land. Team members stand close enough to see each other and any signs of the missing person, and then walk forward. Depending on the width of the search area, your team may have to perform multiple sweeps to complete this task. Back to Ground search teams

The Grid Search is the final resort. It tramples over footprints, destroys the scent, and requires the most people per area. This is the one usually seen on TV, where people stand almost shoulder to shoulder, looking for any clues that previous teams may have missed. Back to Ground search teams

Dog Team Walk Along-It's just you, the handler, and the dog. While the handler watches the dog and completes the task, you will help with some or all of the following: radio, navigation, or medical skills. The handler is always the team leader. Back to Tasks
Continue on Dog Task

You procede to base with the handler and dog. The handler is briefed on the task, and receives maps and radio, while you hold the leash. They handler comes back from base, and tell you about what you're going to do, and procede to hop in their car.
Continue on Dog Task

Once you get to the site and are all ready, you follow the handler and dog as they procede on the task, taking care not to get between the handler and the dog or between the dog and the scent. You read the map as you go along the top of a hill, and monitor the radio. Then, you get a call from another team.

"Team Lima, this is team Golf. We're having some trouble reaching base. We've got a member who has gotten sick, and needs to return to base. Our current position is ...."
You copy the message down, and tell base about the returning team. You then continue the task.

You complete the task, without the dog alerting to anything. You finish the task area, fairly confident that the subject is not in the area, and return to base.

You've volunteered to serve as a Signcutter walk along-Signcutting is a skill that incorporates tracking, clue awareness, and general perception of the environment to determine if the subject has passed through the area. You will help the tracker with the radio and navigation, while they look for clues to determine if a person has passed through the area. Depending on certification, you may be the medical officer in case you do come across the subject. The signcutter acts as the team leader. Back to Tasks
Continue on Sign task

While you wait outside base, the signcutter is briefed and gets the maps and radio. They then inform you about the task, and give you a few basic rules:
1)Always walk directly behind the signcutter, so your tracks don't get confused with those of a subject.
2)Try to make as little noise as possible, so they are not distracted
Continue on signcutting task

You get to an area near where a glove, thought to belong to the subject, had been found earlier. You follow the signcutter as he moves around the area, looking for any signs that the subject has passed through. After a while, they discover the track, and begins following it.
Continue on signcutting task

The track leads off into a drainage area, with a creek running through the middle. The track then follows the creek down into a rocky area. The signcutter determines that these are the footprints of the missing hiker, and you tell base about what you have found, before returning to base.

A Direction Finding team uses electronic equipment to home in on the signal from a downed aircraft emergency transmitter or an activated personal locator beacon. The hiker has just activated one of these beacons, allowing you to find him quickly. It's a tricky skill, one usually only posessed by FTLs. You'll go along to help navigate, use the radio, or provide medical help. Back to Tasks
Sorry, Task under construction.

The subject has been found, and requires medical assistance. As a member of the Evac team, you will help transport the injured person to the closest road or helicopter landing area, so that they can be transported to a hospital. The Evac team needs people to carry the litter, a medic to attend the patient, and in the cases of a slope, people to work with ropes and technical hardware to belay and raise the litter and those attending it. Back to Tasks
Continue on Evac task

You get in one of the evac team vehicles, containing the litter, ropes, hardware, helmets, and medical supplies as close to the subject as you can, using available roads. You put the equipment in the litter, and begin along the trail towards the find team. Halfway there, two of the find team members meet you, and guide you to the subject. As you walk, you notice that some of the areas are a bit steep.
Continue on Evac task

You get to the subject, who seems to have a broken leg, and is showing some signs of hypothermia, according to the find team medic. The Evac medic checks his signs, and finds no additional concerns. You carefully move him into the litter, and wrap him in wool blankets to get his body temperature up. He is given a helmet (as are the litter carriers) and goggles for protection, and webbing straps are used to ensure that he does not come out if the litter is tilted. Continue on Evac task

The team now lifts the litter, and carries it along the trail. New people replace those on the litter periodically, so that nobody tires out. The medic monitors the patient during transport, while extra members go ahead of the litter to make sure the trail is clear and to set up a semitechnical system for the steeper area ahead. Continue on Evac task

The semitechnical system uses a rope, anchors, and friction devices to allow a team member to catch the litter if anything goes wrong. Each carrier will clip in to the litter, to ensure that they are safe as well. In some areas, a second rope can be used along with a set of pulleys, to allow extra people to help pull the litter up the hill. There will usually be an excess of people at this point, as search tasks are cancelled. Continue on Evac task

The evac team continues bearing the patient until it reaches the road. At this point, the patient is handed over to local EMS, who transport him to the hospital. The evac team then packs up all of its gear, returns to base, is debriefed, signs out, and is ready to go home

After the task, (sometimes on the way back to base) the team talks to team leader about what they saw, how confident they are that they would have found the missing person or another clue in the area, what other teams passing through the area should know, etc. The Field team leader then reports this information to Operations, in base, and is debriefed, while the rest of the team returns to staging.
Or, you can sign out and go home.

You're ready to go home. Be sure to sign out of base! Otherwise they will begin looking for you. Call PVRG dispatch, and make sure they know you're coming home. They'll give you a team number.

If you're driving, make sure you've had enough rest. If not, see if somebody else can drive, and if they can't, take a nap in staging. Otherwise, hit the road home

Phew, back in the neighborhood. The driver drops off each person at their place. They then call PVRG dispatch when they reach their own house, to say that their team is homesafe.
Once all PVRG teams have returned, PVRG dispatch tells the ASRC, and closes. Once all ASRC teams are home, ASRC dispatch closes.

Thank you to all who responded!
Wait at home until the next callout.