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#294643 - 01/21/20 08:01 PM America's SAR Is in a State of Emergency
AKSAR Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 08/31/11
Posts: 1163
Loc: Alaska
The wide geography of the US, and the variety of state and federal land administration, has resulted in a patchwork of Search and Rescue organizations. Many are being overwhelmed.

America's Search and Rescue Is in a State of Emergency
Quote:
SAR operations in the United States are a patchwork. Depending on where you are when bad luck strikes, you might be saved by a commando squad with a chopper on speed dial, carried out quickly by a talented group like the Volcano Rescue Team, or forced to wait for hours, even days, until well-meaning volunteers with limited resources reach you in the backcountry. Historically, this was a reasonable approach, with the level of rescue services available in a given area generally matching the demand. These days, though, demographic and cultural shifts have led more people into the wild, putting emergency operations in some places under enormous stress. Which is why it’s time to reevaluate our approach to SAR before things get worse.
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#294644 - 01/21/20 08:59 PM Re: America's SAR Is in a State of Emergency [Re: AKSAR]
BruceZed Offline
Enthusiast

Registered: 01/06/08
Posts: 316
Loc: Canada
Interesting Article, in Canada our principal authority for Ground SAR is our provincial police, i.e. in all of Western and Northern Canada the RCMP and for Air SAR the Royal Canadian Airforce. This means they are the ones that assign volunteer SAR teams and decide which assets to use. In some parks, the specialized teams exist and they become the first responders and the RCMP only takes over if they cannot find the individual(s). This means we have a much more unified system and standards that are set at either the provincial or national level. It is also as I have seen first-hand on the Alberta/British Columbia border, they are willing to use whatever resources are available, most practical and inter-provincial borders make no real difference.


Edited by BruceZed (01/21/20 08:59 PM)
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#294645 - 01/21/20 11:33 PM Re: America's SAR Is in a State of Emergency [Re: AKSAR]
teacher Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 12/14/05
Posts: 888
SAR groups seem to be small and highly skilled -- and mostly volunteer.

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#294648 - 01/22/20 12:27 AM Re: America's SAR Is in a State of Emergency [Re: AKSAR]
DaveL Offline
Newbie

Registered: 10/03/18
Posts: 37
Colorado has a 50 cents fee on fish and small game licensing and 25 cents on additional big game lic. For S&R and I believe hikers etc can purchase a S&R insurance for a small fee.
Not that more should not be done


Edited by DaveL (01/22/20 12:29 AM)

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#294651 - 01/22/20 03:25 PM Re: America's SAR Is in a State of Emergency [Re: AKSAR]
hikermor Offline
Geezer in Chief
Geezer

Registered: 08/26/06
Posts: 7198
Loc: southern Cal
The article seems a bit alarmist, although not completely over the top. It also seems to discount the immense contribution made by the military.

I was once one of those "overwhelmed" volunteers,spending hard earned dough on rescue gear - the very same items I used for recreation as well, and noted dutifully on my tax return.

I worked from Tucson, AZ, a large urban area with Davis-Monathan AFB adjacent, equipped with lots of hoist equipped helicopters and eager Vietnam era pilots eager for a diversion from their usual milk runs. When needed, the incurred costs were charged to "training." The arrangement worked well for all concerned.

On one major search effort, i was personally communicating with a group in Illinois, arranging for some kind of highly classified heat sensing gadget to overfly our search area. It did not at the time seem to be all that extraordinary request...

We operated not just within our county, but well beyond, including adjacent, more rural areas. Many of those communities now have their own rescue groups, supported and encouraged by our group. Things seem to be working decently.

One thing not mentioned in the article is that a certain threshold of rescue incidents is necessary for any SAR arrangement to work decently. Inactivity can be just as debilitating as too much activity.

I am sure improvements can be made, but I don't thin we are necessarily on the verge of a "crisis."
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#294654 - 01/22/20 09:18 PM Re: America's SAR Is in a State of Emergency [Re: hikermor]
AKSAR Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 08/31/11
Posts: 1163
Loc: Alaska
Originally Posted By: hikermor
The article seems a bit alarmist, although not completely over the top. It also seems to discount the immense contribution made by the military.
-------snip-----------
I am sure improvements can be made, but I don't thin we are necessarily on the verge of a "crisis."
I think the point of the article is that It Depends. As the article clearly points out, some areas are quite well served by SAR teams. Many other areas not so much. Whether or not it's a crisis depends on where you are.

Your experience in Tucson is certainly a data point. However, you might want be careful about how you extrapolate one data point, from decades ago, to the current situation across entire country. It would be interesting to hear from someone who is currently active in the Tucson area to get their take. Has the population of that area increased since you were active in SAR? Has the volume of SAR callouts increased since you were active in that area? I suspect both have increased significantly. Now the key question, has the size and capability of SAR teams to respond kept pace?

You mention the military. Yes, the military certainly plays a big role in civilian SAR in the US. But contrary to what many believe, the military is not a bottomless reservoir of SAR resources, available at a moments notice. Nearly two decades of constant combat deployments to the Mid East has had an effect. For example, here in Alaska we are fortunate that an Air National Guard Combat SAR team is based here (PJs, Pave Hawks, and HC-130s). They are highly capable. But their primary mission is supporting the military. When the Air Force is flying (which is always), they need to keep a Pave Hawk and PJs available. They also try to keep a ship and crew on standby for civilian SAR, but sometimes they can't. Part of the unit is frequently deployed to the Mid East. And nearly two decades of war has taken a toll on the aircraft, many of which are getting worn out. Awhile back I heard an officer comment that "on average, I only have about 2 1/2 Pave Hawks available", (the HH60G Pave Hawk is a Black Hawk tricked out for rescue work). The Army Guard also flies civilian SAR missions, but likewise they aren't always available, and seem to take longer than the PJs and Pave Hawks to respond.

Aside from helos, most of the work of ground SAR is done by volunteers. But many teams (though not all) have serious funding issues. Yes, most of the personal gear for a SAR volunteer is the same gear we use for our own adventures. Team gear is another matter. Take high angle technical rescue. There was a time when most technical rescue used more or less the same gear that we used for personal climbing. This is no longer the case. Techniques, gear, and expectations have changed dramatically. Take a look at Tim Setnika's book Wilderness Search and Rescue which was state of the art in 1981. Now open a copy of the current 3rd edition of Contrra's Technical Rescue Rigger's Guide. Check out the cost of rescue hardware. For only $4,975 your team can have a state of the art Arizona Vortex kit (developed down in your former stomping grounds). Much of the new gear is unquestionably better than what was used in the past, both safer and more effective. But it is expensive. And with it comes new training demands. This means that even if you have a good background in technical climbing, there is still a long steep learning curve if you want to do technical rescue. This puts more demands on volunteer's training time.

And it isn't just technical gear that costs more. Back in the day, a backboard was state of the art for spinal immobilization. You can still buy a good back board for $100 or so. But back boards are rapidly going out of favor. Vacuum mats are rapidly becoming the preferred standard of care for spinal immobilization. A good vac mat will set you back about a thousand bucks.

Another issue in many areas is getting enough volunteers. The training time required for most teams is increasing. And in many mountain towns, the number of people willing to put in the time to train, and able to be available for call out at any hour seems to be shrinking. This is not restricted to SAR teams. Many volunteer fire departments are having a difficult time recruiting enough members. Likewise, in many small communities volunteer EMS ambulance squads are finding it very tough to attract, train, and retain enough members to remain viable. I just attended an EMT refresher class. One of the other students is from a small community on the road system. He said they currently only have three members in their EMS team. If you get in a car wreck on that stretch of road, try to arrange to do it when at least one of those guys is home!

Bottom line, as the article points out, whether SAR is in crisis mode or not depends on where you are. Some areas such as National Parks are pretty well covered. Many other areas do indeed have a real problem.
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"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more."
-Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz

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#294660 - 01/23/20 04:01 AM Re: America's SAR Is in a State of Emergency [Re: AKSAR]
hikermor Offline
Geezer in Chief
Geezer

Registered: 08/26/06
Posts: 7198
Loc: southern Cal
"Bottom line, as the article points out, whether SAR is in crisis mode or not depends on where you are. Some areas such as National Parks are pretty well covered. Many other areas do indeed have a real problem."

True enough, but this is not exactly breaking news. If you are is southern Arizona or near a fairly large community like Flagstaff in the northern part of the state, SAR services are probably readily available. If, on the other hand, you are deep in the Navajo reservation (or similar isolated, large rural areas), say Navajo Mountain or thereabouts. you may have a long wait. But this is not new; it has been the case for decades, if not longer.

A few years ago, I returned to Tucson to deliver a eulogy for one of my best and longest friends, with whom I worked on my first SAR experience in 1958 and on many since then. The memorial service was held at the building dedicated to the unit on USFS grounds on the outskirts of Tucson. I was impressed at how the capabilities of the unit had grown since I left town. To me, this was notable. A member of the unit's first traing class in 1959,I recall that at that time the unit was not very effectual and most of the members had very little experience on the local trails. I was in and out of Tucson for the next ten years, while my friend stayed and labored mightily to build up the capabilities of the group.

Of course a group needs appropriate and useful gear, some of which can be quite specialized, but the basis is qualified, competent, and skilled individuals who can coalesce and work together to reach and assist someone in trouble, at any time of day or night, and in any kind of weather. This is quite a challenge and, realistically, not always possible.

Aksar, the situation you describe in your last post is much clearer and persuasive than the rather vague circumstances in the article you cited. I am sure there are places and times where resources for SAR are marginal, but it really depends upon local initiative and desire to achieve a credible result.

Good people with community support can go a long way.

I could go on, but it is late....
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#294662 - 01/23/20 04:13 AM Re: America's SAR Is in a State of Emergency [Re: AKSAR]
Phaedrus Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 04/28/10
Posts: 2541
Loc: Big Sky Country
I'm "only" fifty but I have noticed a large uptick in the number of folks in the backcountry. Seems that hiking and general outdoors stuff is more popular now than when I was a youngster. Not sure why but it's definitely a thing.
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#294666 - 01/23/20 07:37 PM Re: America's SAR Is in a State of Emergency [Re: AKSAR]
clearwater Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 03/19/05
Posts: 1159
Loc: Channeled Scablands
Local SAR coordinator says since the cell phone and the GPS, they are pretty much just "rescue". Not much searching needed on land anymore.

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