Thursday, June 27, 2013

People helping the lost, hurt and injured

"So others may live” is the slogan of the Washington State Search and Rescue (SAR) organization. It takes people to make that slogan a reality. In our state more than 5,000 people—search and rescue volunteers—are prepared to do that on a moment’s notice. Under local leadership, they conduct an average of more than 700 search and rescue missions every year.

Here’s one more thing about people. Like the folks pictured below from just one of the state’s many local SAR organizations, SAR volunteers are a great group of human beings. They are incredibly dedicated, talented and savvy. They’re good folks to work with; their work can be hard and rewarding; and their mission is always vital. Many of the local SAR organizations around the state would welcome more volunteers to add to their devoted cadres. If you’re interested and have experience that would make you a valuable addition, contact your local emergency management office.

Some of the people (and one dog) from Kittitas County Search and Rescue.

That said, I want to give you an idea of the art and science of search and rescue. New trends were on full display at the 2013 Washington State Search and Rescue (SAR) Conference, May 6-12, in Ellensburg. This was the 45th iteration of the conference, also known as WASARCON, making it the longest running event of its kind in the nation. More than 70 separate classes were offered at WASARCON. Below are a few brief examples of new developments in strategy, techniques and technology.
The conference featured numerous courses on SAR strategy and related topics such as management, planning and leadership. Concerning searches for missing children, the Abduction Search course clearly delineated the  distinctions between the two categories of abduction—“familiar” and “stranger.” The fear that a missing child may have been abducted, imagined or real, is often amplified by the traditional media and social media. Most child abductions are “familiar,” e.g. done by a parent or someone the child knows. This course focused on statistical studies and lessons learned from actual abduction searches such as the Polly Klass kidnap and murder. How to train volunteers on risk management and personal safety using the Green/Amber/Red (GAR) model was covered in GAR Searcher Safety. Other courses were Managing Land Search Operations, Searching for Victims of Predator Abductions; and Strategic Plans and Why I Need One.

The conference had  a slew of courses on SAR techniques, including Air Scent Demo/Equine Sign Language for SAR, which informed mounted SAR responders how to recognize their equines’ natural scenting abilities and read equine sign language. Bone Identification covered easy-to-recognize differences between human and animal skeletal remains, including size and morphology; and ways the environment can modify bones. Getting to POD (Probability of Detection): Transition to Use of Formal Search Theory taught participants how to apply the fundamentals of POD and the minimal information needed to compute POD during a search. Search for the Autistic Subject and the Bike Wheel Model applied the analogy of a bicycle wheel (hub & bearing, axle, hub, spoke, reflector, rim and spoke gaps) to allow SAR teams to rapidly initiate the search for a missing autistic person.
The SAR conference courses covered new technologies, as well as new products, new maps and new research. The Geo Referencing for SAR workshop provided a working knowledge of various map coordinate systems and emphasized the two systems nationally standardized for land SAR—Latitude/Longitude and the U.S. National Grid. GPS Use and Operation showed how to make maximum use of GPS by setting datum; using map and compass, and waypoints; and downloading tracks. Social Media and SAR explored how to establish a presence with social media; the need for procedures and protocols for what information should be posted and not posted.

Participants at this year's conference came from search and rescue units; law enforcement agencies; fire services; and military units from both Washington state, around the country and around the world, including four Canadian provinces, New Zealand and South Africa. WASARCON’s complete 2013 class list is at

For those looking ahead to next year, the conference will be hosted by Pierce County Search and Rescue in Puyallup, May 5-11, 2014. More information is available at

Bill Gillespie, president of the Search and Rescue Volunteer Advisory Council (SARVAC), expressed his gratitude to many for their efforts in putting on the 2013 conference, including Kittitas County Sheriff Gene Dana, Deputy Dave Houseberg and the members of Kittitas County Search and Rescue.

“Thanks for all of the time you give to search for the lost and the hurt and injured,” Gillespie said, “I know from the comments of their families and friends that they truly appreciate your dedication to help ‘so others may live’.”
Chris Long
SAR Coordinator, Washington State Emergency Management