SARstories News is our blog for all things Search & Rescue: interesting mission reports and articles, featured SAR teams and new items on the website, upcoming conferences, gear reviews, and anything else that piques our interest and we hope will pique yours.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

A New Gadget: the SPOT

Have you heard of this thing? It's a personal satellite communicator called SPOT, which utilizes the GPS satellite network to find its location. The gadget then transmits that location and the user's status to friends, family and/or emergency personnel. I'd happened upon an online review of this product and then, a few days later, saw it in an outdoor store in the case with the GPS units. The orange caught my eye as I walked past, on my way to the sock bin.

So the way this SPOT thing works is that the transmitted message is written in advance by the owner as either a text message, an email link of the user's location on Google maps along with coordinates, or both. Depending on which of the buttons is pushed--OK, Help, or the recessed 911 button--the message can state that the user is fine, that help is needed but not emergency help, or that the person is in trouble and requires rescue. The 911 message goes to the Search & Rescue Center in Houston, TX that SPOT uses. They will then acquire the sender's location, try to get in touch with the emergency contacts listed on his or her account and, if the sender can’t be located shortly, the service will activate the appropriate search and rescue outfit.

While a personal locator beacon (PLB) sends out a distress signal, the SPOT can differentiate between "I'm okay, just updating you on my progress and location" and non-emergency and emergency calls for assistance. And this gadget at about $150, which is significantly less than a PLB, will work where there is no cellphone coverage. In addition to the initial cost, however, there's an annual subsciption charge of $99 to send out the various messages, as well as a $50 option which puts out electronic breadcrumbs every ten minutes.

In the online review I found, former police officer and Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Tactical Instutite, Ron Avery writes, "Imagine officers or emergency personnel operating in the backcountry, checking in when they can’t get cell phone or radio coverage. Teams can operate in the backcountry and send in updates of progress that a command center can track via computer and know the location of personnel." He also points out various other uses of the SPOT, including giving it to kids so they can check in when they're are out and about or on an outdoor trip. Same goes for those hunting and fishing (or hiking, climbing, skiing, etc.) in remote areas.

It's probably not something I'd add to my gear wishlist any time soon, but if it works as well as Ron Avery says it does (he's tested it extensively and claims it functions just as advertised) then it sounds like the SPOT is a very useful and perhaps will even be a life-saving new product.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

New at SARstories: Articles & More

We've added a new section to the SARstories website for Search & Rescue articles, studies, e-zines and gear reviews. The hunt for items of interest will be ongoing, but I think we have a decent start.

Among the material we've found so far is a study by Mike McDonald, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Operations and Management (of the ASTM F-32 Committee on Search and Rescue) of twenty SAR organizations' 24-hour pack lists. Between the 20 lists, there were a total of 100 items, but no list included all 100 items. Only 6 of the items appeared on all 20 lists, while just 3 were required by all of the groups. Having heard the term "the ten essentials" so often, I was surprised there weren't at least ten items common to all lists. Check out the study in PDF format here.

Also, we came across an article entitled, "Jokers on the Mountain: When Politics and Mountain Rescues Collide" by Lloyd Athearn, which focuses on the debate over whether or not to charge rescuees--in this case, mountain climbers--for their rescues.

Visit our Articles & More section to see what else we've come across. And if you find something SAR-related that's of interest to you, let us know so we can share it with the rest of the SAR community.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Mountain Rescue Association

While returning from a mission recently, a member of our SAR team mentioned the Mountain Rescue Association. The name rang a bell, and I recalled including their site in the SARstories directory. My teammate said he supported the idea of our team applying, training and testing for membership. So, when I returned home, I went to the MRA website to refresh my memory.

The Mountain Rescue Association, established in 1959 at Oregon's Mount Hood, is the oldest Search & Rescue association in the U.S., now comprised of more than 90 member units in the U.S., Canada and abroad. Membership is not available to individuals, only to SAR teams, most of which are made up of volunteers.

According to the MRA website, in order to qualify for membership teams "must pass three different tests based on guidelines drawn up by the Association. These tests are conducted on appropriate terrain by at least three current MRA teams working together to evaluate the applicant group being tested. The tests involve high-angle rescue (rock rescue), Ice and snow, and wilderness search." Accredited teams have to be re-tested every five years to maintain their membership.

While perusing the website, I came across some recent mission reports by MRA team Portland Mountain Rescue, including one about a recovery on the Elliot Glacier Headwall. Click here to check it out.

There are eight Mountain Rescue Association regions in the U.S., including twenty-four states and the District of Columbia. To find out if your state is included and see a list of member teams in those areas, go to

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Featured Team: 1st Special Response Group

Now and then, SARstories will highlight one of the Search & Rescue teams listed in our directory. At first, we were going to just close our eyes and pick one, but then I received an email from a member of the 1st Special Response Group and figured, hey, that's a great one to start with. After hours and hours scouring the web for teams to include, that one had stuck out in my mind. Then I went back to their website and realized why.

The 1st Special Response Group's motto is "Anytime, Anywhere," and that's certainly true. According to their site, "1SRG is available worldwide upon request of any government agency or international aid organization ... 1SRG can provide requesting agencies with: Standard wilderness search teams; Mantracking teams; Ground and/or Water Search with K9 utilization for both living subjects and cadaver (including forensic search); Technical Rescue including urban, mountain, cave, and confined space; and, Water Rescue."

1SRG's website includes a section about their missions and projects, including a write-up about Robert Bogucki, who walked into the Great Sandy Desert in Australia to find God. Thirty-four days later, 1SRG found Robert alive and helped him walk out. Other missions have taken the team to Fiji, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Peru and the list goes on.

Based at Moffett Federal Air Field in California, 1SRG is made up entirely of volunteer professionals. Visit their website at

Monday, September 15, 2008

Featured SARstories site: Havasupai Flood

From time to time, we'll fill you in on one of SARstories' featured websites. Some, like Josh Kaggie's site about the 2008 flood in Havasupai, Grand Canyon, are occasionally updated with new material, and we'll let you know when we find it.

In August of this year, Josh was one of several hundred campers who were enjoying the blue-green waters and almost fantasy-like landscape in Havasu Canyon, part of the Havasupai Indian Reservation, when monsoon rains upstream and a subsequent dam break caused sudden and dramatic flashflooding. The heaviest flooding occurred during the dark, wee hours of the morning, and the severity of it took many people by surprise.

While, thankfully, there was no loss of human life, there were some close calls, and many of those visitors left the canyon with only the clothes (or swimsuits) on their backs. Both tourists and residents of Supai village were evacuated from the canyon by helicopter--Blackhawks, DPS and National Park Service machines--to Hualapai Hilltop. Some of those people were then taken to a Red Cross shelter in Peach Springs. Some had cars at the Hilltop but no longer the keys to start them.

Once back home in Utah, Josh put together a collection of links to first-hand accounts written both by flood survivors and rescuers, media reports, videos, photos and updates from the tribe. We've checked the site at from time to time and have found new additions and, therefore, featured this website on the homepage of our own.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Hurricane Ike Search & Rescue

We figured we might as well begin our Search & Rescue blog with the most reported news event of the past few days: Hurricane Ike. Some 20,000 people decided to ignore mandatory evacuation orders and instead ride out the storm in their homes. According to the Associated Press, nearly 2,000 people in Texas who refused to evacuate have now been rescued by land, air and water.

Read the full AP story and view photos here.

Twenty-four hours after Ike's 110-mph winds and storm surge crashed into the Texas coast, rescuers began dealing with downed power lines and risking their lives to help those who stayed behind. As of today, 394 of those rescues were by air. Watch one of those rescues in this CBS video (after the unavoidable commercial), when Galveston officials make a daring helicopter rescue, plucking a man out of his pickup as it washes away in Ike's high tides.

The U.S. Coast Guard issued a news release with summaries of selected Search & Rescue cases.

News reports, photos and videos of Hurricane Ike abound on the web. After a lengthy search, the above are just a few of those we thought worth including here.

**Just as I was typing this entry, CNN's Rusty Dornan reported that folks who did not evacuate who were later asked, if they had it to do over again, would they stay behind replied, "Absolutely NOT!"**