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#298757 - 04/07/21 05:19 PM Pandemic Wilderness Explorers Are Straining Search
AKSAR Offline
Veteran

Registered: 08/31/11
Posts: 1208
Loc: Alaska
Covid19 is causing more inexperienced people to head into serious terrain, straining SAR resources:
Pandemic Wilderness Explorers Are Straining Search and Rescue
Quote:
In the throes of a pandemic that has made the indoors inherently dangerous, tens of thousands more Americans than usual have flocked outdoors, fleeing crowded cities for national parks and the public lands around them. But as these hordes of inexperienced adventurers explore the treacherous terrain of the backcountry, many inevitably call for help. It has strained the patchwork, volunteer-based search-and-rescue system in Americaís West.


Edited by AKSAR (04/07/21 05:35 PM)
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#298758 - 04/07/21 07:08 PM Re: Pandemic Wilderness Explorers Are Straining Search [Re: AKSAR]
dougwalkabout Offline
Crazy Canuck
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 02/03/07
Posts: 2985
Loc: Alberta, Canada
It seems to be a widespread phenomenon. SAR calls in British Columbia have also jumped like crazy. Same thing: inexperienced people without even the 10 essentials, who (I'll bet) think calling in SAR is the same thing as calling 911 (or ordering pizza). And pleas from SAR organizations to take basic measures to be self-sufficient.

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#298759 - 04/07/21 08:06 PM Re: Pandemic Wilderness Explorers Are Straining Search [Re: AKSAR]
hikermor Offline
Geezer in Chief
Geezer

Registered: 08/26/06
Posts: 7507
Loc: southern Cal
I think the article is just a tad over the top and alarmist; 44 operations a year? In southern Arizona, my volunteer group- Southern Arizona Rescue Association (SARA) was logging around 50 annual operations when I left Arizona in 1985; today, they average about 100. The group responds to calls from the local sheriffs, does a competent, professional job, and earns substantial community support.



"volunteer" does not mean incompetent or inexperienced. We had currently certified and practicing nurses and physicians active in our group, along with certified PE engineers with an interest in the outdoors and rock climbing and caving involved in technical operations. One of the strengths of a volunteer group like this is the engagement of folks with many diverse backgrounds and skills in a common enterprise - aiding people in trouble in the Great Outdoors.

The common denominator for the victims we aided was inexperience. I can recall less than three operations (out of more than 450 in which I was involved) where people with any knowledge or skill came to grief.

Volunteering has its problems' you generally have to work for a living at least some of the time....Those of use who were most active typically had reasonably flexible schedules and the support of our organizations. I frequently used my vacation time for operations and found a provision in the personnel manual which allowed up to 40 hours leave peer year for service to community non profit organizations. I used that as well.

Local knowledge and experience is a priceless asset for SAR. You will not function as well in unknow territory as within an area in which you have operated for years.

I feel that volunteer SAR makes a great deal of sense. When a situation arises, you need varying numbers of people with various skills, ranging from medical to technical climbing/outdoor expertise to come forth and achieve a goal. Except in very unusual situations, volunteers are the answer.

Yosemite NP is one of those exceptions. The staff does include fully trained, equipped, and competent rescuers. Even so, they are augmented by climbers in the Valley, who, I understand, are paid for their services when on an operation.

What would help SAR in the face of this "boom" in outdoor recreation. one thing - get the message out to people about proper conduct in the outdoors. Establish incentives and remove barriers for volunteers - perhaps some sort of compensation - semi-volunteers, anyone?

For me, now in my eighties, volunteer SAR was the most rewarding and significant of all the things that I have done.
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#298760 - 04/07/21 08:31 PM Re: Pandemic Wilderness Explorers Are Straining Search [Re: AKSAR]
haertig Online   content
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 03/13/05
Posts: 2270
Loc: Colorado
As SAR is overrun, more people who are stranded in need of help will have to remain stranded in need of help. Some will die. You can't manufacture SAR resources out of thin air. People will eventually learn that they have to take care of themselves. If they don't learn this, they have a much higher likelihood of perishing.

This is the way it has always been, and always will be. SAR is not your primary way to get out of the wilderness. More like your fallback, behind your other fallback, behind another fallback. Actually, I would say that SAR should never be part of your plan. SAR is what comes into play AFTER all your plans and redundancies have failed. You don't plan for SAR specifically.

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#298761 - 04/07/21 09:15 PM Re: Pandemic Wilderness Explorers Are Straining Search [Re: hikermor]
AKSAR Offline
Veteran

Registered: 08/31/11
Posts: 1208
Loc: Alaska
Originally Posted By: hikermor
I think the article is just a tad over the top and alarmist; 44 operations a year? In southern Arizona, my volunteer group- Southern Arizona Rescue Association (SARA) was logging around 50 annual operations when I left Arizona in 1985; today, they average about 100. The group responds to calls from the local sheriffs, does a competent, professional job, and earns substantial community support.

I believe the 44 missions the article refers to is for only one team, based in Sublette Co WY (population about 10,000). SARA, which you refer to, is composed of 5 teams, and draws volunteers from the Tucson area (population about a million). I suspect that 44 missions might easily overwhelm a small team based in a small community.

I didnít see that the article in any way implied that volunteer teams are not competent?

SAR resources vary widely across the US. Extrapolation based on experience from teams based in one large metro area doesnít necessarily apply to all other areas of the country. Conditions, terrain, climate, financial support, and population base from which to draw volunteers vary greatly.
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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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#298764 - 04/07/21 10:06 PM Re: Pandemic Wilderness Explorers Are Straining Search [Re: AKSAR]
hikermor Offline
Geezer in Chief
Geezer

Registered: 08/26/06
Posts: 7507
Loc: southern Cal
"Back in my era, SARA was one team. What is this "five teams" you refer to? The population of Tucson was well below a million then, as well.

There is another factor involved here, as well - inactivity. If your services are not used, what is the point? I would say that about 40-50 callouts a year is necessary to keep the group exercised and poised for service.

Phrases like "volunteer based, patchwork" and contrasts with " professional, full time teams" does not put volunteerism in the best light. I would say the article degrades volunteerism and volunteers, implying that they are a less than satisfactory solution. That is not to say the situation could not be improved

The articles also states that the NPS handles SAR in the parks. They do, mostly by calling on those pesky volunteers. This was certainly the case in southern Arizona where we operated in Organ Pipe Cactus, Saguaro, and most notably in Chiricahua - the search for Paul Fugate, the Park Naturalist who went out to check thee nature trail in January, 1980, and hasn't been seen since. I personally spent more than two weeks on that operation. As a career NPS employee, during one week I was formally assigned to Chiricahua, working totally within the SARA framework. There were sporadic, targeted operations after that. The case is still unresolved. For the last fifteen years of my career, I served at Channel islands national Park, where we depended upon the volunteer team in Santa Barbara where any technical skills was required. We did handle many ops on our own, but NPS budgets have not thrived recently, staffing has decreased, and the NPS is increasingly dependent on (ahem!) volunteers for all kinds of work.

There are parks like Yosemite, and Grand Canyon, with heavy visitation that do indeed have functional teams, but they all are willing to include volunteers with special insights and skills.

For all the alarms that this article raises, there is a notable lack of discussion about possible solutions; certainly the current situation can be improved in many respects. We should focus on possible solutions,like improved outdoor education
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#298765 - 04/07/21 10:15 PM Re: Pandemic Wilderness Explorers Are Straining Search [Re: haertig]
hikermor Offline
Geezer in Chief
Geezer

Registered: 08/26/06
Posts: 7507
Loc: southern Cal
I have been involved in all too many body recoveries where the individual perished because of the lag in notification and the length of time required to reach the victim. A helicopter is not always available due to weather and other constraints.

If it were up to me, you could not graduate from high school without obtaining something like an Advanced First Aid certificate....

You are absolutely correct. Do not rely on any SAR outfit to pluck you from the jaws of death....
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#298766 - 04/08/21 12:15 AM Re: Pandemic Wilderness Explorers Are Straining Search [Re: hikermor]
AKSAR Offline
Veteran

Registered: 08/31/11
Posts: 1208
Loc: Alaska
Originally Posted By: hikermor
"Back in my era, SARA was one team. What is this "five teams" you refer to?
My mistake. I googled SARA and got the website of SARCI (of which SARA is one of 5 member teams). No sure how many members SARA has these days? I strongly suspect it is somewhat bigger than the team from Sublette Co, WY?

Originally Posted By: hikermor
The population of Tucson was well below a million then, as well.
According to Wikipedia "....the 2015 estimated population of the entire Tucson metropolitan statistical area (MSA) was 980,263. The Tucson MSA forms part of the larger Tucson-Nogales combined statistical area (CSA), with a total population of 1,010,025 as of the 2010 Census." By any measure, a much larger population base from which to draw volunteers than Sublette County, WY.

Originally Posted By: hikermor
Phrases like "volunteer based, patchwork" and contrasts with " professional, full time teams" does not put volunteerism in the best light. I would say the article degrades volunteerism and volunteers, implying that they are a less than satisfactory solution. That is not to say the situation could not be improved
I certainly didn't get that negative sense from the article. Note that the article mentioned that the volunteers "...pour their own money into equipment and training..."

Originally Posted By: hikermor
The articles also states that the NPS handles SAR in the parks. They do, mostly by calling on those pesky volunteers.
------------snip--------
There are parks like Yosemite, and Grand Canyon, with heavy visitation that do indeed have functional teams, but they all are willing to include volunteers with special insights and skills.
Denali also has a paid NPS professional team of climbing rangers. They also include highly skilled, carefully selected volunteers in their high altitude team. Denali frequently calls out volunteer teams for lowland SAR missions.

In my experience the biggest difference in SAR missions in the National Parks is in the consistent leadership and management the Park Service provides, and the additional resources that the NPS can quickly call upon (helicopters, rangers from other parks, etc).

As the article notes, outside the parks, in most states SAR is the legal responsibility of the local county sheriff. Some of those sheriff departments are are extremely knowledgeable about SAR, and can provide their local volunteer teams with good leadership and support (financial and otherwise). I've met some of the sheriff deputies in charge of SAR from Coconino Co, AZ, and they were first rate. However, other county sheriffs departments in some states are not so knowledgeable and are very poorly funded. And SAR missions often straddle county lines. There are horror stories about missions gone bad because of turf battles between adjacent counties.

My main point is that you always seem to fall back on your Arizona experience, and extrapolate that to all of North America. From what I've seen, Arizona does a very good job of SAR. I've taken some great training courses that have come out of Arizona. However, it is a big country, and not every volunteer SAR team has the resources and support that you have in AZ. Don't assume everyplace handles SAR as well as Tucson.
_________________________
"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more."
-Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz

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#298768 - 04/08/21 03:18 AM Re: Pandemic Wilderness Explorers Are Straining Search [Re: AKSAR]
hikermor Offline
Geezer in Chief
Geezer

Registered: 08/26/06
Posts: 7507
Loc: southern Cal
I will have to agree with you about the Denali volunteers: "They also include highly skilled, carefully selected volunteers in their high altitude team." I was on the June team in 1987 - quite an experience - about two weeks at Advance Base Camp -14,000+ dealing with incidents. We were hoping to make a push for the summit, but our plans were disrupted by the need to treat a HAPE victim. The good news was that our work was monitored by Dr. James Wilkerson, author of Medicine for Mountaineering and we had a very worthwhile, positive discussion afterward. Denali was a great experience - I kept mumbling to myself as we trudged up the Muldrow Glacier, "You're not in So Cal or So Arizona any more." And I was a volunteer, taking leave from my job at Channel Islands to fly to Alaska and toil as a volunteer -all in all, a wonderful experience.

I agree that I am focused on my Arizona experience, but I see the same system working here in the local counties quite effectively. Certainly with so many disparate situations, there is a lack of uniformity, but it is up to each community to deal with the situation as they see fit, in accord with other priorities...

It is worth noting that SARA was not always a effective organization, not even little bit. SARA was formed in the fall of 1958, shortly before an epic snowstorm blanketed Tucson and the surrounding ranges with record snowfall, causing the deaths of three Boy Scouts attempting to climb Mt. Wrightson, just S of Tucson. I and two of my hiking companions volunteered for the operation, climbing Wrightson and determined that they had not reached the summit.

That was the start of SAR in Tucson. We learned of SARA and joined, part of the first training class. The founders of the group was members of the local Civil Defense team who saw the need for SAR. Their problem was that their outdoor experience was minimal and early efforts were ineffective, for the most part. We were fairly hardy hikers, acquainted with the local trails and high spots, but knew nothing of SAR and first aid procedures.

Gradually things improved and positive results began to appear. There was resistance at first to admitting women to the organization, but I think that was a highly significant factor in SARA's improvement. SARA was the first organization in my experience where I witnessed male and female cooperating and working together effectively. (This was the 60's, after all). The NPS at that time was basically a Boys Club, but has undergone a similar change, with similar results.

I moved to SoCal in 1985, but I have kept in touch with SARA over the years. MY last contact was a few years ago, where I spoke at the memorial service for my best friend who had been hugely instrumental in improving the outfit and who had climbed Wrightson in the snow with me many years earlier.

So, what is the path forward and how do we make SAR even more effective?



Edited by hikermor (04/08/21 03:21 AM)
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