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Determining Direction of Sound During A Search

I recently received an email from a young woman who, along with her hiking partner, was rescued by SAR volunteers after getting lost in the mountains of northern California's Angelo Coast Range Reserve. According to the woman's account, searchers were fairly close all night, yet despite having voice contact with the subjects, they weren't able to locate them until morning.

As the two women huddled together for warmth in the intermittent rain, they periodically saw the SAR team's lights and heard their shouts, though they couldn't make out their words (or vice versa, apparently). Without a light source of their own other than the small screen of a cellphone, which they didn't try to use for signaling, the ladies had no way to indicate their location other than to shout back at searchers.

With what little battery power she had left on the phone, one of the lost hikers made calls to 911 in an attempt to have the dispatcher relay to the searchers where the subjects were in relation to the team's lights and shouts. Eventually, the cellphone went dead, and the shouting continued. Searchers were having a lot of difficulty determining the direction of the subjects' voices in that mountainous terrain.

Having had similar experiences during SAR missions, when it was difficult to pinpoint a subject's location despite being within hearing range, I thought I'd look into the fickleness of sound and how we as searchers can better hone in on the source of that sound without the aid of a visible light source. I didn't find a whole lot.

First, I read an article called The Direction of Sound, which explains the interplay between time lag, wavelength, and tone. This all makes perfect sense, but it's not always so easy in practice.

Then, in another article I came across about auditory perception, the writer states that a listener can acquire more information about the direction of a sound by moving their head, adjusting the orientation until the source of the sound seems to be located out front, where a human's localization sensitivity is greatest. 

So, if searchers stop moving and take time to call back and forth with the subject, turning our heads as we listen to each call, this would be better than continuing to move while exchanging shouts or whistle blows with the person/s we're trying to locate.

I also found an electronic device, a "bionic" ear with a booster dish, which is said to increase sound by up to 40 decibels and apparently is highly directional, allowing the user to locate the source of a sound. Search and rescue is listed as one of its intended uses; however, I've been unable as of yet to find any comments or reviews by a SAR team that's used this technology.

During one search I was on in the company of a SAR K-9, the handler closely watched his dog's ears each time we heard a shout somewhere in the distance. Just as the dog heard the sound, her ears would twitch in a particular direction. Her handler told me this was a very good indication of the direction the sound was coming from.

If anyone has any additional suggestions or feedback on what little I've discovered so far, please leave a comment. 

Featured Team: SAR Dogs Nepal

I first became aware of this search and rescue team when I corresponded with their founder and Managing Director on LinkedIn and decided to learn more about them.

SAR Dogs Nepal (formerly known as the Himalaya Rescue Dog Squad), established in October 1989, by Dutchman Ingo Schnabel, is the only organization of its kind in the country, providing search and rescue teams and medical aid in the event of natural disasters and when trekkers are reported missing or injured. The squad is able to provide air rescue and tracker dogs to almost any area of Nepal. Members are experienced in a wide range of disciplines, including rock rescue, firefighting, logistics, and wilderness medicine.

The team has a newly formed Junior Rescue Squad,  thanks in large part to American dog trainer Lynn Martin from Oregon's Dog Obedience Academy, who traveled to Nepal with her sister, Kathleen Reick, to help SAR Dogs Nepal train six newly recruited Nepalese youngsters.  This follows a hiatus during The People's War in Nepal from 1996 until 2006, when SAR Dogs Nepal could not continue its training of new disaster relief workers. At present, only 18 staff members and 9 Nepalese volunteers remain, while the team's goal is to have a minimum of 100 disaster relief workers on standby in their mobile  Disaster Relief & Medical Aid Unit.

The team's main headquarters, including a dog breeding and training center, is in Shyauli Bazaar, Lamjung District, in the center of Nepal. They often work at an altitude of  5600 meters (18,373 feet) or more, in diverse and often harsh conditions--from jungle gorges to flooded plains, avalanche zones, and even large-scale traffic accidents.

Flash flooding is common in Nepal, when the monsoons bring heavy rain and heat, melting snow and ice to the rivers. There's also a lot of seismic activity, making landslides, earth tremors, and even full-scale earthquakes constant threats.

Due to a lack of national infrastructure and government support in the field, SAR Dogs Nepal has provided the only medical disaster relief to poor villages in remote areas.

You can learn more about the SAR Dogs Nepal and about the country on the team's website at

Youth In SAR

I used to think you had to be 18 in order to participate in search and rescue. But now I know that assumption was wrong. In fact, there are whole teams made up of youth volunteers.

Take Long Beach Search & Rescue, for example. From their website:

Long Beach Search & Rescue "provides young adults with an opportunity to serve the public during emergency situations while encouraging them to explore career possibilities in the law enforcement, fire protection and emergency medical services fields. Long Beach Search & Rescue is an award-winning Learning for Life Explorer Post co-sponsored by the Long Beach Police Motor Patrol and Long Beach Firefighter's Associations." All applicants must be between the ages of 15 and 18 and maintain at least a C grade point average in school, among other requirements.

There's also Explorer Post 2002, a youth Search and Rescue team sponsored by the Sonoma County, California, Sheriff's Department. After finding this team, I then did a search for Explorer Search And Rescue (ESAR) and found youth SAR teams all over the country, including but not limited to Arkansas ESAR, Washington ESAR, and King County ESAR, the first youth-based search and rescue team in the nation, established in 1954.

Some states, such as New York, don't accept SAR applicants who are under 18 years of age. However, organizations such as Boy Scouts of America and Civil Air Patrol do have units around the country that have Search and Rescue training tracks that minors can get involved with. Explorer Search and Rescue (ESAR) teams are made up of teens--boys and girls--in the Learning for Life program, a subsidiary of the Boy Scouts of America, who are trained and deployed for search and rescue missions. 

Here are news stories about two young and accomplished SAR volunteers:

Arizona Teen and her Search Dog Pass National Certification: After completing her ground searcher certification, 16-year-old Taylor Lane of Sonoran Search & Rescue submitted an application to the Paws of Life Foundation's program to pair canine handlers with dogs. Lane and her search and rescue dog recently passed NASAR's Canine Sartech I evaluation.

To the Rescue! A young search-and-rescue-volunteer comes to the aid of lost or injured hikers in northern California: Now 18, Tamsen Bell started with Marin Search & Rescue when she was 14 years old, the youngest age at which one can join. When Bell was 16 years old, she took a lead role in a SAR mission involving a 60-year-old hiker who fell 50 feet off a cliff and landed on a mountain ledge, breaking part of her neck and suffering other injuries. Bell then slid down a steep part of the mountain to get to where the injured woman lay. She then examined the victim to find out what kinds of injuries she had suffered and decided the best way to transport her to safety.

Featured Team: K9 Search and Rescue Team Inc.

This past weekend at the SARCity conference in Barstow, California, I had the pleasure of meeting several members of the K9 Search and Rescue team from Dolores, Colorado, a non-profit organization established in 1984 that does not operate under a Sheriff's department. These dedicated volunteers make themselves available 24 hours a day, year-round, to respond to calls for SAR throughout the States. To date, they've assisted with missions in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Alaska, California, Idaho, and Texas.

And the team shows up to missions completely self-sufficient for a minimum of five days, traveling in a modified school bus that has room for nine passengers and kennels for five or more dogs, and can serve as a communications center during searches. The team also has a 4-wheel drive pick-up and a base camp trailer that holds most of their rescue and medical gear, which is brought along when needed.

Other than fuel reimbursement, there is no compensation requested by the team when they respond to everything from wilderness, urban and evidence searches to missions involving water, snow, homicide, aircraft, and disaster-type searches. The team depends on the support of the community, grants and fundraisers to maintain their operations.

You can read more about the team's human members and their search dogs on their website at, where you'll also find a mission history dating back more than six years and information on becoming a member. And you don't have to have a dog to do so; besides being a handler, the team needs navigators, base support, and even non-field personnel--those with valuable skills who do not deploy in the event of a mission.

One thing that really impressed me about the team members I met was how open and friendly they were, coming over to introduce themselves to me soon after I arrived at the conference. I also sensed a strong camaraderie among them, which tells me they not only enjoy each other's company but train and work well together also. I know they've come to our county in Arizona at least once before to assist with a mission (before my time), and I'd welcome working with them in the future.

Here are some news releases about the team:

If you plan to attend the July 2010 SARCon in Gunnison, Colorado, you'll likely meet some of this team's members there. Information about SARCon will be posted on the COSAR website next year.

What's New On

I thought I'd highlight some of the new content that's been added to in the past couple of months.

First, thanks to Steve Hilts, a member of the Urban Search & Rescue California Task Force 3, for submitting his journal from his 2005 trip to New Orleans, where he and his K-9, Daisy, assisted with Search & Rescue efforts following Hurricane Katrina. Steve and Daisy's story is now posted on our website, since Steve doesn't have one of his own.

We also have another new featured story link to Crisis on Half Dome, brought to our attention by the Friends of YOSAR (Yosemite Search & Rescue), about a near-fatal fall and the risky rescue that followed. (Photo above-left courtesy of Friends of YOSAR)

And in our own search for new SAR stories, we came across Expecting Surprises: The Hasty Team Strikes Again by California's Santa Clara County Hasty Team, whose technical training outing in Tenaya Canyon turns into a real rescue when another hiker becomes stuck, immobile and scared on a wet slab.

Under the SAR Articles category, we've added a new find, a short article called Humans Walk in Circles But We Think We're Going Straight, about a study done by researches at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Germany.

And there's also a new non-team SAR site page, where we're compiling a list of links, including a new website called SAR Responder, developed by Kim Ringeisen. Kim is a member of Central North Carolina Search & Rescue, and is his new social network, connecting Search & Rescue volunteers and professionals. You can also find out about upcoming events, read recent SAR news, and post your own SAR articles.

As always, if you come across any good firsthand SAR stories, articles, team websites that are not currently in our directories, or non-team SAR sites we should add to our list, please email us at and let us know.

SAR City in Barstow, California

Now that I've returned from the Arizona state Search & Rescue conference, I'm signing up for another, this one in California. The three-day event is called SARCity, now celebrating it's 37th year this October 9–11.

SARCity is put on by the Barstow Desert Rescue Squad, a volunteer team involved in all types of SAR including mine rescue, in conjunction with the San Bernardino County Sheriff, OES, Barstow College and more than 100 volunteer instructors. More than 50 classes are being offered, some lasting an hour and others the entire weekend. There will be lots of new classes this year, while still offering the basics for those just getting into search and rescue.

Included in the schedule are several "track" classes, which last all or most of the weekend and are limited to a certain number of students. Topics include Man Tracking, HAZ MAT, ICS 400, and HAM radio.

The 2009 "Mix & Match" classes include Winter Survival, Cave SAR, Fostering Good Judgment in your SAR Team, Scene Size up in the Wilderness Setting, Considerations for Rope Rescue and more.

Fees for the conference are $85 if postmarked by September 24th, then $95 after that. If 5 or more members of a team will be attending, the discounted rate is $70. Registration includes either a selected track class or any of the mix and match, general session classes, as well as breakfast, lunch and dinner on Saturday and breakfast on Sunday. There is camping, showers, and RV/camper sites available.

You can find a registration form at For additional information, email

The Search For David Gimelfarb

David Alexander Gimelfarb, a 28-year-old doctoral student in psychology in Chicago, was last seen on Tuesday, August 11th at 10 a.m. in the Rincon de Vieja National Park outside of Liberia in Costa Rica. On Tuesday night after closing hours, his car was found in the parking lot, with no evidence that he has returned since.

David's parents have been in Costa Rica searching for their son with the local Red Cross since Wednesday, August 12th. On August 18th, the U.S. government and the U.S. Costa Rican Embassy joined in the search, and on August 19th, ResQglobal, an "independent, neutral organization providing an immediate international rescue service for victims of disaster worldwide," arrived to assist.

Since then, a Facebook group has been created in order to pool information on David's disappearance and the ongoing search, including links to news stories (ie. "Chicago Grad Student Missing in Costa Rica" from August 16, 2009) and a list of all visitors who signed in at the Park register on August 11th. This social networking group also aims to dispel some of the misinformation that's been circulating in the media.

As of the latest update on September 9th, a team was able to get to a lagoon at the bottom of a crater, where they found some red foam rather than what was thought to be a body floating face-down when it was first spotted by police.

Anyone with information pertaining to this search should send an email to


Now that I've earned my Rock Rescue Tech patch, I'm thinking about what other "levels" of search and rescue I might try to accomplish. I've heard people mention SAR Tech I, II and III, so I decided to get more details. And here's what I've found out:

These are tests administered by the National Association for Search & Rescue, with SAR Tech I being the highest level of the three. And it is not necessary to take the SAR Tech III test (written only) to go for SAR Tech II (written and practical tests).

A SAR Tech II exam can be scheduled by anyone who wants to sponsor or host one. I see on the schedule for the upcoming Arizona SAR Conference in Heber (9/18–20) that the SAR Tech II test may be taken for a fee of $55.

The SAR Tech II written test consists of 160 multiple choice questions, with a passing grade being no less than 70%. Topics covered in the exam include:

  • NIMS Incident Command System
  • Basic Survival
  • SAR Clothing
  • Improvising
  • Environmental Hazards and First Aid
  • SAR Ready Pack
  • Personal Equipment
  • Travel Skills
  • Land Navigation & Orienteering
  • SAR Resources
  • Search Philosophy
  • Search Tactics
  • Handling Evidence
  • Clue Consciousness
  • Search Operations
  • Tracking
  • Ropes & Rescue Equipment
  • Legal Aspects for the Searcher

The practical test for SAR Tech II is made up of six stations in the categories of land navigation, tracking, the 24-Hour Pack, rope skills, route search and area search. Applicants must demonstrate these skills to an approved evaluator.

An explanation of each of these stations and all the requirements for SAR Tech II and III can be found at

SAR Tech I is the advanced "Crew Leader/Evaluator" level, which is recommended only for those who may function as crew leaders during missions. .

I think SAR Tech II certification is something I want to do, which means I'll need the textbook, Fundamentals of Search and Rescue. Apparently, earlier editions of the book will not be sufficient to prepare for the exam.

You can see a list of all NASAR Course offerings and examinations on their website.

Some Minnesota & Ontario SAR and SAR Reading

Here I am, back from my trip to the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota, where my husband and I paddled, camped and hiked for the past couple of weeks. While we were there, I had lots of time to read while hiding from mosquitoes in our tent, so I picked up some regional books, including one related to search and rescue.

It's crossed my mind a number of times—how easy it would be to get lost in the thick North Woods, often without significant landmarks to aid in navigation, especially if one ventures off the beaten path (not that there are many beaten paths in the Boundary Waters other than popular portages) without maps and a compass and solid orienteering skills. In fact, a friend of mine and I got quite confused about our location and our route ahead when we hiked Minnesota's Kekekabic Trail in 2003 and, at one point, backtracked close to 10 miles just to get to a point we were sure of.

Part of what made it so confusing, and still does today, is the mess created by a powerful microburst, with straight-line winds up to 100 miles per hour, that swept though the area on July 4, 1999. The storm left trees piled up like huge matchsticks, sometimes 20 feet high over an area of 386,000 acres in the wilderness alone, affecting 800 campsites, 80 miles of portages, and over 130 miles of hiking trails. (Here's an article with photos about some of subsequent clean-up efforts: Sacramento Hotshots Help With Search & Rescue in Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness) Sixty people were injured during the mid-day storm, with 20 being evacuated by float plane. A decade later, the effects of that storm are still seen and experienced firsthand if you hike or portage canoes in the area.

Add to that the fact that hiking trails in the wilderness are not marked and, so it seems, rarely maintained. Just to show you how thick it is up there, check out this photo of my husband. He's actually ON the Border Route Trail in the Boundary Waters. At times, it's more like swimming through brush than hiking. We had to pause and hunt for the trail on several occasions and do some crawling under and climbing over a number of downed trees. So I could relate to Lost in the Wild: Danger and Survival in the North Woodsand how one wrong move or a short lapse in attention can get you into very deep trouble up there.

This book tells the stories of two young men, one an experienced guide and the other a novice backpacker, unfamiliar with the area, who got lost in the North Woods at different times, and the decisions and events that led to their life-threatening predicaments as well as their rescues. One of the SAR operations takes place on the U.S. side, the other is across the water-based border in Canada. Despite the fact that the reader knows both men ultimately survive, that didn't detract from the suspense. And the book is well-written and moves along at a good pace. 

I was particularly interested in how the SAR units operated and how they handled the searches. The teams involved were Minnesota's volunteer Lake County Rescue Squad and, in the search on the Canadian side in the Quetico Provincial Park, the Ontario Provincial Police Emergency Response Team.

From the book (p.191) re: Lake County Rescue Squad:

"Since its inception over three decades ago, Lake County's volunteer search and rescue has grown progressively more sophisticated. In the late 1950s and 1960s, it was little more than a group of concerned citizens. Today, the fifty-plus volunteers are divided into three squads: Two Harbors, Silver Bay and Finland. Each squad has trained individuals who can stand in as incident commanders, the leaders responsible for guiding and directing searches. And now the volunteer group has plenty of the right equipment: ATVs; personal watercraft, and boats; gear for water searches, woods searches, climbing rescue; radio equipment; even their own command vehicles. The Finland squad's vehicle is a used ambulance and trailer, gutted and refurbished with communications gear, a table and sleeping berth."

Re: O.P.P. Emergency Rescue Team (p. 210):

"The helicopter is almost in from Sudbury, but they realize there is no good place for it to land. The area around no name lake is so thick with brush--trees running straight up to the edge of the water with no flat granite outcrops--they will need to create some kind of makeshift helipad.

"Sergeant Norm Mitchell and Moore know the copter doesn't need much. But it should be plenty open, so the rotors have no chance of hooking on a tree branch. The most open place close to camp is the cobblestone end of the lake, but the boulders are too large and tumbled, in the same state the glaciers left them. Its surface it too uneven.

"A kind of log-dock landing pad could work."

And that's what they built in time for the helicopter to touch down a half hour later and pick up the spotter from the wilderness base camp they'd set up.

Author Cary J. Griffith also wrote Opening Goliath: Danger and Discovery in Caving. As in "Lost in the Wild," Griffith weaves together two separate incidents, "showing the dangers experienced by both groups--one highly prepared and experienced and the other tragically ill equipped." (

An End To a SAR Story

Just a brief post to let you know that the body of missing hiker, 20-year-old Bryce Gillies, was located this morning in the Bonita Creek drainage on the north side of Grand Canyon. He was found at the top of a 100-foot pour-off after personal items, including a backpack, had been discovered nearby.

Here's the breaking news article from the Arizona Daily Sun: Body of Missing Backpacker Found.

Update: Search Continues For Missing Grand Canyon Hiker

This is Friday, July 24th at 4pm. As of this time, the search continues for what is now believed to be a single hiker rather than a group of three or four. The latest Grand Canyon National Park Press release was posted yesterday:

"Grand Canyon National Park search and rescue personnel are intensifying their search efforts as they re-asses who they are looking for.

"On the evening of Tuesday, July 21, the Grand Canyon Regional Communications Center received a report that at least one, and possibly as many as three young men were overdue from a backpacking trip to the Deer Creek/Thunder River area of Grand Canyon National Park. On Wednesday, Park Rangers found the car of Bryce Gillies, a student at Northern Arizona University (NAU), parked at the Bill Hall Trailhead which is located about half way between Tuweep and the developed area on the North Rim of the park."

Read more....

The reason I know that the search is still ongoing is that I'm listening to radio traffic at the Canyon on Another helicopter just took off for the Thunder River area with an hour's worth of fuel. Ground teams continue to search as well.

This is who they're looking for:


Age: 20
Height: 5’ 3”
Weight: 130
Hair: Brown
Eyes: Blue

Anyone who believes they have seen Mr. Gillies since Saturday, July 18, is encouraged to contact the National Park Service at 928-638-7805.

Saturday, July 25, 6:50am. Here's the latest information from the Arizona Daily Sun. As the report confirms, I could tell by listening to the radio scanner yesterday that searchers had located some items.

Breaking News: Hikers Missing in Grand Canyon

This news release was published by Grand Canyon National Park on Wednesday, July 22nd:

Contact: Shannan Marcak, 928-638-7958

Grand Canyon, Ariz. – At approximately 7:20 p.m. on Tuesday, July 21, the Grand Canyon Regional Communications Center received a report that at least one young man, and possibly as many as three, were overdue from a backpacking trip at Grand Canyon National Park.

The young men are reported to have left on a trip to the Deer Creek/Thunder River area on Saturday after reading about the trip in a magazine. According to the reporting party, the father of one of the young men, his son had stated that he would be back on Monday, but did not return. Further investigation revealed that there were as many as four young men in the hiking party. All are in their early 20s, and all are believed to be students at Northern Arizona University. It was also determined that this group did not have a backcountry permit. Read more....

SAR: A Great Education For Volunteers

I don't think I learned this much in college. At least, not as many truly useful skills as I've acquired or improved upon since joining a search and rescue team almost two years ago. And most of that education has been either free or at very low cost.

My SAR trainings have included subjects and skills like:

  • Map & Compass
  • GPS
  • Alternative Navigation
  • Basic ATV and UTV
  • Tracking--both human and vehicle tracks
  • Truck and trailer training
  • Patient Packaging
  • Line Search and Probability of Detection
  • Snowmobile driving
  • Rappelling
  • Belaying
  • Ascending ropes
  • Rigging anchors, raising and lowering systems
  • Knot-tying
  • The Incident Command System
  • Helicopter safety

Team members also have access to a class on Wilderness First Aid at a reduced cost, a variety of advanced technical rescue skills, snow and ice skills, SnowCat operation, monthly mini-trainings on topics such as Alzheimer's and dementia, wildland fire, and differentiating between human and animal bones. We also have opportunities to participate in joint trainings with other organizations, such as local fire departments and the Forest Service for example.

And then there are the state and national SAR conferences, offering a variety of workshops and field classes. For those of you in Arizona, our state SAR conference in Heber will be held September 18 - 20th at the Salvation Army’s Camp Ponderosa Ranch. Have you registered yet? If not, the information is on the Tonto Rim Search & Rescue Squad's website. And here's the most up-to-date class schedule.

For a list of upcoming NASAR courses, see the Events Calendar on their website.

Interested in technical rescue? You might want to attend the International Tech Rescue Symposium to be held this year from November 5th thru 8th in Pueblo, Colorado. Registration information can be found on the ITRS website at and in the downloadable ITRS brochure.

Know of another upcoming SAR conference for this year or next? Let us know in the comments section.

Search & Rescue And Social Media

If you're involved with search and rescue and are anything like me, you yack your spouse's (or significant other's or coworkers' or friends') ears off about SAR: SAR missions, SAR trainings, SAR news, SAR gear, SAR skills... even maybe a little SAR gossip from time to time. (Not that I do that, of course. And, of course, there are often things we can't talk about regarding missions.) But it's nice to be able to talk SAR with other SAR folks, too, because they may actually be interested for more than a few minutes.

And there are some good opportunities to do so online, on social sites, forums and e-mail discussion lists. Here are some of those I've found:


There are numerous ways and reasons one can use Twitter, including communicating with people from around the world who have the same interests. I often "tweet" about Search & Rescue and follow others who do also. And we tend to interact directly quite often. I've started putting together a directory of SAR volunteers and professionals on Twitter at Search & Rescue On Twitter: Follow These Good Folks.

There's also a Twitter "Twibe" at Here, you can view only those posts that include the words "Search and Rescue" or "SAR."


There are Search & Rescue Facebook groups as well. I belong to S.A.R. Search and Rescue

There's also:
California Search and Rescue
Search and Rescue (global)
Ground Search and Rescue
Canadian Search and Rescue

To name just a handful of many. If you are a Facebook member or decide to join, simply type "Search & Rescue" into the search box, and you'll find a long list of related groups (and a few that aren't). Some SAR groups are stagnant or have few members, but others are quite active. A number of them are closed groups, meaning you have to click on the "Request to Join" link and wait for moderator approval.


Rescue Training and Resource Guide Forums: Online discussion forum covering many aspects of Search and Rescue

Search and Rescue Forums at Expedition Portal: Looks like an active forum on my SAR topics

E-mail Discussion Lists

Search & Rescue Discussion List (SAR-L): Mailing list topics can include techniques, training, management, tips, gear, announcements and much more. To subscribe, email with "subscribe" in the subject line. Activity averages 120 messages per month.

SAR-Dogs Discussion List: This list was formed to facilitate communication between K9 SAR handlers and persons interested in K9 SAR.

CSAR List: A Yahoo! Group, for discussion of all aspects of the use of computers and computer-related technology to the execution and management of Search and Rescue operations. This can include mapping programs, Geographical Information System (GIS), Global Positioning System (GPS), Incident Command System (ICS) and other SAR-related applications. Average 10 messages per month.

Swiftwater/Flood Rescue Information and News: A Yahoo! Group for rescue personnel and others to exchange information about flood disaster preparedness, swiftwater/flood rescue training, and public safety education. 100-500 emails per month.


There's also a Search & Rescue group on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a network of professionals (volunteers too!) from around the globe.

If you know of any other active Search and Rescue-related forums or discussion groups, please let us know in the comments section.

In The News: TV Show Helps Utah Boy Survive Night Solo In Woods

I've seen Man Versus Wild a time or two, and I found it entertaining enough. Guy with nothing but a knife and the clothes on his back gets dropped off in the middle of the cold, wet Canadian wilderness and has to survive for ... what? A week, I think? And guy gets dropped off in a desert somewhere with some implement and has to eat scorpions and make drinking water with a desert still to keep from croaking (or having to be rescued by the rest of the film crew). Or wait ... maybe that was Survivorman?

At any rate, that's cool stuff to know and great skills to have, for sure. (And I truly don't mean to sound sarcastic here; I'm just in a mood, I guess.) But I'm not sure, based on this Associated Press news story out of Salt Lake City, that I'd credit the show with this mission's happy outcome.

So here's the scoop: A nine year-old boy gets separated from his fifteen family members in Utah's Ashley National Forest, when the rest of the party stopped to adjust a saddle on a horse and the child got ahead and accidentally veered off down a side trail. There were intermittent downpours that day, so the boy was wearing his yellow rain jacket when he disappeared.

When the child realized he was lost, he began tearing his jacket into strips and tying those strips to trees. He also kept moving, following a creek in an attempt find a lake where he figured he'd also find people, but, despite his efforts to "find himself" and be found, he ended up spending 18 hours alone, overnight in the forest, before being located by a mounted SAR unit.

On the plus-side, the child did try to leave clues and thereby make himself visible. He also apparently took shelter under a fallen tree overnight. And, as his father stated, "The thing that he recognized from the show, regardless of the circumstances you're in, you are capable of surviving." A positive attitude is always a good thing.

On the down-side, though, the boy shredded his insulating jacket, leaving him more vulnerable to hypothermia. And he kept moving rather than staying put (aka "hugging a tree"). Definitely not unusual behavior for a lost child, as I've seen firsthand.

In the end, though, what searchers found weren't the yellow strips tied to trees but the granola bar wrapper the boy accidentally dropped a few hundred yards off the main trail and then the backpack the boy accidentally dropped (in his panicked state, he later explained) several hundred yards from the wrapper. The searchers then also located the child's tracks.

So, happily, all was well that ended well, and I certainly don't think that the television show did any harm, to say the least. At the same time, though, perhaps a few basics about what to do when lost might be stressed at the beginning and/or end of the episodes, like staying put for one, especially for the benefit of the children who may be watching.

And if they do that, great! I take it back. :)

Charging Our Gadgets As We Search?

Hm, re-charging gadgets just by walking. With all the wandering around and hiking I do with SAR, that could certainly come in handy.

I don't own one of these (in fact, they're only available for pre-order right now), but I thought this was interesting--a device that transforms the kinetic energy generated by walking into electricity for the portable electronic device it's plugged into. It's called the nPower PEG (Personal Energy Generator), developed by a company called Tremont Electric. The mechanical and biomedical engineer who invented the PEG and founded Tremont Electric came up with the idea while hiking 1,500 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

The 9-ounce device is said to be compatible with 90% of portable electronic gadgets, including GPS units, digital cameras, and most cell phones. The PEG isn't a battery itself, so it can't store kinetic energy for using later. Rather, it's a real-time converter that has to be plugged into the portable device as you and it are moving. A mini USB cable with various adapters connects the PEG to the portable gadget.

The PEG doesn't have to be worn on the person but is meant to be carried, like in a backpack for example. Just by walking (or hiking or running), enough kinetic energy is produced for the device to generate electricity. In fact, it apparently works while you're sitting in a moving vehicle, or if it's attached to some other moving object like a boat, bicycle, snowmobile or quad. Or on a horse for all you mounted SAR folks out there.

I sent an email to Aaron LeMieux, the inventor of the PEG, asking him if this device could work with headlamps somehow, and he replied, "Most headlamps do not have an integrated rechargeable battery like cell phones to plug into, which makes this application a little difficult right now. For my headlamp I use USB Cell’s ( and recharge them with the nPower PEG. I acknowledge that this is a solution, but not the best solution. Hopefully, as we gain traction in the marketplace we will be able to work with a headlamp manufacturer to develop a more streamlined solution."

That would certainly make it even more useful for SAR. I for one have to change my headlamp and flashlight batteries no less than every couple of weeks and often once a week. Then there's the battery in my pager, the extra batteries we always have to carry for our handheld radios in the field, and the batteries for our GPS units.

I also asked Aaron about the radios we use on SAR missions. His reply: "The radios that you use are part of the industrial applications that we will be doing R&D on next year. This is a relatively easy application for us. We have been focusing our efforts on the Consumer market, knowing that once we get some traction we can hit a lot of other areas."

Obviously, if he and his company can pull off these applications--lights and radios--it would make the PEG technology much more useful for SAR work. But given the current "estimated price tag" of $150, it would take quite a bit of use to make up for the cost of the PEG compared to that of batteries. Obviously, though, there's more to the idea than just saving money; it's also about consuming less energy, since the PEG is intended to take the place of plugging portable devices into wall outlets for recharging.

For more information on the nPower PEG, visit the Tremont Electric website at

SAR Stories Aplenty At Grand Canyon

Living just an hour and a half from the Grand Canyon, I often hear and read about Search & Rescue operations within the Park. Several of our County SAR team members are involved with the park in one capacity or another--volunteer and paid rangers, a helicopter medic, guides--who sometimes assist with missions involving missing, injured, ill or deceased canyon visitors. One even co-authored the book, Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon, which illustrates that the majority of the deaths have occurred when people failed to pay attention to warning signs or didn't use common sense.

(The guy in that photo is my husband, by the way, but he was just goofing around. But it sure was hot that July afternoon. Still, we saw people coming down the Bright Angel trail carrying no water--nothing in fact--at all.)

Given that Grand Canyon is the second most visited National Park after the Great Smoky Mountains, and the 10th most visited National Park unit, (See: with more than 4 million people coming through the entrance gates annually, it's to be expected there will be a large number of "incidents." Unfortunately, though, Grand Canyon leads the nation when it comes to SAR calls.

Each year, rangers at Grand Canyon National Park perform as many as 300 helicopter rescues, not to mention those carried out on foot, boat or by other technical means. Most of those missions stem from falls and medical issues, the former often from horse-play or the desire for that photo at the edge, and the latter frequently from fatigue, extreme temperatures and underlying conditions exacerbated by the effort of hiking out of the canyon.

According to 2007 statistics, these same factors, along with poor navigational skills and lack of preparedness, lead to nearly 3,600 search and rescue operations in National Parks around the country. According to an article in the May 24th edition of the Arizona Daily Sun, the park service also responds to 16,000 emergency medical calls a year for anything from abrasions and twisted ankles to heat stroke and cardiac arrest. In years past, Grand Canyon has accounted for about 13% of these incidents in the National Park system.

And recent weeks have been as busy as ever for SAR personnel at the Canyon. In late April, a man fell 60 feet when he lost his balance while looking over the edge. Just two days later, two teenagers and a young man were swept away and drowned when they went for a swim in the Colorado River near Phantom Ranch. Then a woman was injured when the mule she was riding fell and rolled over her. Currently, rangers are searching for a hiker who's been missing since May 23rd.

In 2005, Grand Canyon led the National Parks with 307 SAR calls. Next in line was Gateway National Recreation Area in the New York/New Jersey area with 293, and rounding out the top three was Yosemite with 231.

To see the rest of the top ten list, along with the costs associated with these missions, see: Staying Safe and How Not to Become A SAR Statistic in the National Park System

See also: Grand Canyon Search & Rescue media releases

The Silver Alert Program

Recently, our Search & Rescue team was called upon to search for a missing 80 year-old woman with advanced dementia. While we were out in the field conducting a ground search and air rescue was flying over the heavily treed area, a message was displayed on nearby automated highway signs, just as it would be for a missing child under the well-known Amber Alert program.

In this case, the programmed message was a "silver alert," intended to spread the word about a senior who'd wandered from her family's campsite several hours earlier. Soon after the alert was displayed, calls came in from passing motorists who thought they'd spotted the woman and her small dog along the interstate. Sure enough, those sightings proved to be the subject of our search, who was returned to her loved ones unharmed.

While the Amber Alert program, which was established in the mid-90s and makes use of state transportation department programmable road signs, public broadcast systems, and a 511 emergency call-line, is in force in all 50 states, the Silver Alert Program has a number of states to go. According to the OLR Research Report of January, 2009, thirteen states had passed Silver Alert legislation at the time, with five others pending. The good news is, the program is catching on. By March, the number had risen to 18 states with Silver Alert Programs and 14 pending. (See: Silver Alert Initiatives in the States from the National Association of State Units on Aging) Also in March, 2009, the National Silver Alert Act was passed by the US Senate to make the safe recovery of missing senior citizens a nationwide project.

In 2006, Colorado became the first state to formally establish an official Silver Alert Program, soon followed by Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina and Texas in 2007. Virginia has a similar program called Senior Alert.

In North Carolina, for one, the alerts don't specify health information about the subject, in order to protect the missing person from potential abuse, harm or exploitation.

Governor Charlie Crist of Florida followed suit in October, 2008, with his state's own Silver Alert Program, after the search for an elderly woman who checked herself out of a Pinellas County nursing home and accidentally drove into the intracoastal waterway. Her body was found less than a week later by local fisherman.

Everything I've read about Silver Alert Programs has indicated that the majority of those seniors reported missing in this fashion have been safely returned. One of many examples is the case of 83-year-old Helen Long of North Carolina, who left her home without notice in January, 2008. Her daughter called state police, who broadcast a description of Ms. Long's truck on the state's Silver Alert system. Six hours later, a UPS driver saw the truck and called for help, and Long was returned to her home unharmed.

For additional reading on Silver Alert Programs, see:

Silver Alert: For When Elders Go Missing by Christine Vestal

"Silver Alerts" Sound The Alarm When Certain Seniors Go Missing from the National Conference of State Legislatures

Featured Team: Pathfinder Search & Rescue

Recently, I crossed paths online with a member of Pathfinder Search & Rescue, a non-profit Canine SAR team based in Moore, Oklahoma. This is the only volunteer K-9 Search and Rescue team in Oklahoma listed with the State as an Emergency Resource.

The group responds to calls involving urban and wilderness search and rescue, both natural and manmade disasters, missing children, cadaver searches, and scent discrimination throughout the state. They've also responded to incidents out of state, including the post-Katrina floods in New Orleans.

Pathfinder SAR began in 1997 and has since grown to include a current group of six active human volunteers and 6 dogs, who train, on average, 300 hours per year.

On January 22, 2000, five search dogs from the Pathfinder team were inducted into the Oklahoma Veterinary Medical Association's Pet Hall of Fame for their role in the search and rescue efforts after the May 3rd, 1999 tornados that struck Oklahoma.

In addition to responding to mission call-outs, Pathfinder Search and Rescue offers free programs to the community, including educational services to schools and youth groups. Their Sit and Stay program teaches kids what to do if lost and, time-permitting, introduces them to the Search Dogs. The team also offers continuation credit hours to Police or Sheriffs Departments that request the service, making them the only volunteer SAR team in the State of Oklahoma to offer this free service. In addition, Pathfinder SAR offers classes to any agency that wants a better understanding of how Search and Rescue dogs work and how they can be utilized.

Pathfinder SAR's most recent mission occurred on May 4, 2009, and involved the search for a missing 81 year-old woman with Alzheimer's and Dementia, who was found alive and in good health.

Visit the team's website at

Follow Pathfinder SAR on Twitter.

Watch the team's video:

Pathfinder Search & Rescue is currently working on a number of fundraising projects, seeking donations for much-needed equipment for their command trailer, medical and communications equipment, and other ongoing operating costs. Check out the team's wishlist and see how you might help.

(Images courtesy of Patherfinder SAR)

The Incident Command System--The Basics

I recently participated in a table-top exercise based on the 2008 flooding in Havasu Canyon, a tributary of Grand Canyon and the Colorado River, where the Native American village of Supai and the blue-green waters are located. In August of last year, our team along with numerous other agencies, responded to help evacuate more than 400 campers and village residents out of the path of the flood. Luckily, there was no loss of human life--no serious injuries at all, actually--and things went well, I thought. But there's certainly room for improvement in a number of areas, and that's what the table-top exercise was meant to help accomplish, at least as a start.

The exercise was based on the Incident Command System, which most of us learn about as new SAR recruits. But it's one thing to learn about it on paper and from an instructor in a class room and quite another to see it in action and also to practice it in a low-stress scenario like the table-top exercise.

Here, I'm just going to review the basic Incident Command setup--the different functions within the ICS framework and brief descriptions of each functional element. During some missions, only a few of the organizational elements may be required, while other major incidents may necessitate that the organization be expanded. The ICS framework allows for that expansion, but there are five major functions which are needed on any incident regardless of its size.

Those five major functions are:
  • Incident Command
  • Operations
  • Planning
  • Logistics
  • Finance & Administration

On many, if not most missions, multiple functions may be performed or at least overseen by a single person. In other cases, the responsibilities will be broken down to section chiefs and a number of deputies and "subordinates."

Here's a summary of each major function:

Incident Command: The Incident Commander is ultimately responsible for the overall management of the situation, including tasks like determining the incident objectives, establishing a command post, establishing an appropriate organization and authorizing an "incident action plan," to name just a few.

Depending on the scope of the mission, the Incident Commander may have a deputy and other officers to assist with things like: managing and disseminating public information (Information Officer); acting as a liaison between the various agencies that my be involved (Liaison Officer); and developing and recommending measures for assuring personnel safety and assess hazards (Safety Officer).

Operations: The "chief" of the operations section is responsible for supervising the execution of the Incident Action Plan (IAP) and requesting any additional resources necessary to carry it out, as well as maintaining a unit log and making any changes in the IAP that are needed during the operational period.
Subordinate positions to the operations chief can include a strike team leader, a staging area manager, an air ops director and a helibase manager, to name some of many.

Planning: The one in charge of this section will need to collect, evaluate and disseminate information related to the incident. There are four units within the Planning section that can be activated if necessary, including a resources unit (to oversee the check-in of all resources, a master list of resources, and the current status and location of resources), a situation unit (for collecting and analyzing incident data, providing maps and photographs, etc.), a documentation unit (to oversee forms and reports, make copies as needed, and provide incident documentation) and a demobilization unit (for the "wrapping up" of particularly complex incidents).

Logistics: This section is responsible for all incident support needs, such as medical supplies, food and drinks, facilities, communications, fuel and other supplies. The chief of this section and any subordinate units that are established will need to anticipate these needs and request additional resources if necessary.

Finance & Administration: This section is responsible for managing all of the financial aspects of a mission. Tasks may involve things like recording personnel time, providing cost analysis, managing vendor contracts and equipment rental, to name just a few.

Obviously, most missions don't necessitate such an extensive or detailed structure, and the Incident Command System in its entire, expanded form is difficult to envision--personally speaking--until it's seen in action. Even as a "low level" volunteer, though, I think it's a good idea to have a general understanding of what's going on at the upper levels of incident management right down to our own specific tasks and how we fit in to the ICS. Even the most basic responsibilities, which may seem mundane compared to the overall situation at hand, are vital to its operation. And that's a good thing to know.

For more information on the ICS, I'd start with

Update: Missing A.T. Hiker Found

Backpacking Light Magazine editor, Ken Knight, who was missing for eight days, has now been located in good condition in Amherst County, Virginia, following an extensive search. The mission involved more than 100 search and rescue workers, including dog teams, mounted units and the Civil Air Patrol.

From what I've read on several backpacking forums, he missed the Appalachian Trail turn to John's Hollow and instead followed Little Rocky Row, then got lost from there.

At some point, Mr. Knight started a small signal fire which turned into a two-acre brush fire up on a ridge, which definitely caught people's attention. When firefighters were dispatched to put it out, they found the subject, who was then hiked--"walking and talking"--to safety.

Relief! A happy ending.

And here's an article and photo from The News & Advance out of Lynchburg, Virginia: Missing A.T. Hiker Found

In The News: Backpacking Light Editor Missing After A.T. Hike

This information was posted on by CEO Ryan Jordan:.

Backpacking Light editor Ken Knight is missing after a hike on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia.

If you saw Ken or otherwise know of his whereabouts after Sunday morning, please contact us at the following email address:

About Ken:

Ken is 5'4" tall and approx. 180-200 lb. He is vision impaired, has dark hair, and is probably using a dry bag-style pack with an orange pack bag.

Ken is an experienced AT hiker, but his vision impairment may have caused him to lose the trail.

Point Last Seen:

He was last seen on the Appalachian Trail on Sunday morning, around 9-10am, at Punchbowl Mountain, Blue Ridge Parkway, mile 51.7, in the aea of Buchanan and Bedford, Virginia.

He'd been trailing behind a group and meeting up with them at their campsites. On Sunday, he reported not feeling well and suggested he might go off the trail. The group did not see him since leaving Punchbowl Mountain on Sunday.

He was anticipated to reach mile 76.3 on Tuesday, which the rest of the group did. To date, he has not arrived, and he has missed his flight back home to Michigan Wednesday night.

Ken regularly blogs via iPhone when he has cellular coverage. His last known blog entry was Sunday morning, April 26, at 6:36 AM Eastern:

Search in Progress:

Ken's family has been notified, and a search is currently in progress by NPS and VA State SAR.

Non-agency SAR and other volunteers interested in assisting with this search should contact us at, who is coordinating the efforts of outside volunteers with the SAR Coordinator on location. Please send your name, cellular phone number, and distance from SNP in your message, and then wait for further instructions.

The photo above shows the actual clothes he was wearing.

Ken's last update from the trail, sent from his iPhone, can be seen at FriendFeed at on April 26th, day 5 of his hike. I was having trouble getting the video to load this morning, but give it a try.

You can watch for updates on this story on the the forums at

Featured Blog: Hiker Hell

Want to read daily snippets of SAR stories from around the globe, accompanied by great photos and links to the news articles? Then check out I've been following this blog by magazine editor and avid outdoorsman, Brian Quines, since it began more than 1,000 posts ago.

Brian, also known as B-Real, writes in his profile, "Over four years ago, I read Touching the Void, and I was always intrigued by situations hikers find themselves in and the incredible things they do to stay alive. This blog is about learning from other people's mistakes, so you don't make the same ones."

Stories from just this past week include:

"Skier Falls 150 meters" from Austria’s Brobglockner

"Hiker Survives 6 Days in Wilderness" near Big Sur, California

"Lost Backcountry Snowboarder Found" in Garibaldi Provincial Park, near Whistler, Canada

"Boy Dies in 1,900-Foot Fall" in California's San Emigdio Mountains

"Hiker Rescued From Steep Slope" on Cave Rock, near Lake Tahoe

"Three Young Brothers Rescued From Canyon" in Rock Canyon, Utah

If you have a SAR story for Brian, you can e-mail it to him at

**************************** Smart, Be Safe
Pre-equipped backpacks for hikers and SAR personnel

Howth Coast Guard, Ireland

I came across a blog today that I wanted to pass along. It's written by members of the Howth Coast Guard, a division of the Irish Coast Guard, or IRCG, made up of volunteers. Howth is one of 55 voluntary teams inland and around the coast of the Republic of Ireland with a total of 950 members.

Looking at the unit's call-out log, I see they've responded to twelve missions since the beginning of this year. You can read about those missions and the other activities of the Howth Coast Guard at

As you can see by the example here, they've also got some wonderful photos on the site. This one was taken during a training exercise on the west pier of Howth Harbour. Unit members worked on 3 skill areas--roped stretchers, confidence lining and casualty approaches--then combined them in a short scenario.

You can see more photos of this team's activities, taken by member Robin Blanford, on

The Hasty Search

I probably should have made this post before writing about "the anatomy of a grid search," because a hasty search is often the method of first resort. The objective of a hasty search is to put well-trained SAR members in the field as quickly as possible to search as quickly as is reasonably possible, to check high-probability areas where a subject might be injured or lost. Hasty teams may use vehicles, 4-wheelers, and/or snow mobiles as well as search on foot. Tracking and air-scenting dogs are also frequently used in this phase of a mission.

The article, Search Techniques Used by Trained Teams in the Field, states, "The idea is to cover the ground. This is why it is so important to use trained searchers, because they are usually much more in tuned with what clues to look for and how to quickly spot footprints, broken branches (tracking signs), etc."

Hasty searches are usually conducted by small teams that travel to the most likely spots via the route of least resistance, in the hopes that the subject is still alive and responsive.

Hasty teams are not expected--or supposed--to look behind every bush, but neither are they necessarily instructed to move along a certain path. Often, these experienced searchers are given a lot of discretion as to how they move through the area.

Contrary to the term, however, a hasty search should not be equated with carelessness. Rather, the majority of missions never go beyond the hasty search mode, ending within a day or two if not within hours. Hasty searches are efficient as well as quick, and they can often prevent the unnecessary deployment of additional and perhaps costly resources and personnel.

The Anatomy of a Grid Search

It seems like it should be a no-brainer: Searchers line up, side by side, and walk. And look. And, if it (or he or she) is out there, they'll find it, right? Uh ... maybe. Or maybe not.

Having been in SAR for about a year and a half now and put in hundreds of mission hours already, I've had my fair share of practice at grid (or line) searching, and it sure isn't as easy as it used to look to me on TV, where I'd often see a bunch of SAR members and other citizen volunteers lined up across a field, walking, unhindered, several feet apart. But I've yet to do a grid search like that. I'm usually crawling through, under and over thick brush, snagging my hair, clothing and skin on thorns and cacti, and struggling to keep in line with and in sight of my teammates to either side.

I've heard it said that grid searching is often the strategy of last resort, simply because of the manpower needed to adequately cover large areas. The fewer searchers there are, the more passes have to be made. And the smaller the object of the search--sometimes as small as a bullet casing or even tinier than that--the closer each person must be, meaning each pass will cover a narrower area. In SAR Field Search Methods by South Carolina's Rubicon Search & Rescue, the following example is given:

Noting that, as a rule of thumb, a trained grid search team requires about 3.5 hours to cover one mile, imagine you have one square mile to search. "Using a grid search, you have to decide how many searchers to put in the search area. Assume you assigned 25 people to search that one square mile. Now, you have to decide on spacing. If you space out the searchers with 20 feet between them, this 'line' will need to make eleven parallel passes through the area to cover it all and will take a total of 37 hours! That’s 924 MAN HOURS and 37 actual search hours, if the searchers are moving at a slow, deliberate pace as they are trained to do."

Putting 100 searchers out there in that same square mile, with the same 20 foot spacing, you’d still be talking about 924 man hours, but the search could be completed in about 3 passes, with only 9.2 hours in the field.

And when I say "field," I'm not necessarily referring to an actual field. Where I come from, it's usually ponderosa pine forest or canyon-filled, cactus-covered, pinion/juniper country, where 20-foot spacing would result in a fairly low probability of detection (POD). And imagine trying to locate something the size of a bullet casing in terrain like that? Not likely.

And I don't know about other teams, but we rarely have as many as 25 people turn up for a search. In high-profile cases I've followed in the news, often involving missing children, untrained members of the general public have usually come out in droves to assist. The article quoted above states that those non-SAR searchers are often assigned to perform grid searches in low probability areas to "give them something to do."

Effective grid searching requires paying attention to a number of details, all the while keeping your eyes peeled for clues (or an unresponsive subject). Maintaining spacing between each searcher, continuously keeping track of the person to your right or your left, is key. That spacing can be determined by placing an object the size of the smallest item you're looking for on the ground between two searchers and determining how far apart they can get and still see the object.

It is also important to keep on your direction of travel as much as possible rather than avoiding brush and other obstacles, because that's often where the clues end up, perhaps carried by the wind or animals or, in terms of people and especially children, they can get caught in the thick stuff if wandering around in the dark.


Being a grid search leader is not an easy task. Depending on the number of searchers in the line, the leader may locate on one end or, particularly with larger groups, in the center, where they can more easily communicate up and down the line. On many of the grid searches I've participated with--usually lines of 5 to 10 people at most--the team leader has stayed at one end with his or her GPS on tracking mode, maintaining our course while taking terrain contours into account, and periodically checking to be sure we can all see the person to our left (or right). The leader checks, often by radio, that no one is falling behind or getting too far ahead. The leader also ensures we don't speed up too much, that we're taking the time necessary to look under bushes and even sometimes up into the trees. The faster the line goes, the lower the POD.

Once at the end of a pass, the line will then pivot. The person on the inside will stay in place, becoming the axis, while the others come around. Then that inner end will move over into the unsearched area the length of the pre-determined interval (spacing between searchers), and everyone else will spread out accordingly. Then the whole line moves in the opposite direction, making the next pass.

What our team usually does is have the searchers on both ends of the line keep their GPS's on track. That way, when the line pivots around, they can both maintain the contours of the pass in an effort to ensure that a gap doesn't form, meaning an area would not have been adequately covered.

You can read about one of our team's successful grid searches, where we helped to solve a two year-old missing person case, in my blog post, Cinder Hill Cindy.

Cellphones And SAR

Before joining SAR, I was pretty much a fuddy-duddy about cell phones in the backcountry. To me, that was a place to be free from all electronic gadgets (yes, I even had a "thing" about GPS's, believe it or not) ... but especially phones. Besides, I figured they wouldn't work out there most of the time anyway.

Well, since becoming a SAR volunteer, I admit I've changed my mind--not that I condone yacking on the phone while walking a trail--and learned a thing or two about the value cell phones can have, both to the backcountry user who gets into a jam and to Search & Rescue. I've now been involved with a number of missions where cell phones have literally saved lives and/or made it much easier for our team to narrow the search area or even pinpoint a subject's location.

Speaking of pinpointing one's location, I recently read a brief article entitled, "Cell Phone Users Beware: 911 Operators May Not Be Able To Locate You." Till then, I'd been under the impression that all cell phones that have a GPS chip built into them--meaning all phones made within the past two years--would enable 9-1-1 to obtain a caller's exact coordinates (or at least determine the location to within a small area), just by the person dialing in to the call center. As the article points out, however, this is the case only in areas that have "enhanced 9-1-1 systems."

The Federal Communication Commission's website states:

"The FCC's wireless Enhanced 9-1-1 (E9-1-1) rules seek to improve the effectiveness and reliability of wireless 9-1-1 services by providing 9-1-1 dispatchers with additional information on wireless 9-1-1 calls."

This additional information includes the phone number of the wireless caller, the location of the cell site or base station transmitting the call, and the latitude and longitude of the caller to within 30 to 300 feet. This is accomplished by using either some form of radiolocation from the cellular network, or by using a Global Positioning System receiver built into the phone. How a 9-1-1 caller would be located depends on which service provider and the type of phone being used. Though the federal government requires wireless companies to comply with Enhanced 9-1-1 rules, cellphone users do need to check with their service providers or phone manufacturers to get details about their phone.

Here's an interesting article, discussing how a cell phone signal was used to locate the family of James Kim, who disappeared in Oregon during a Thanksgiving road trip. In "Turning Cell Phones Into Lifelines," writer Marguerite Reardon explains:

"Mobile devices, when they are within range, constantly let cell towers and the mobile switching center, which is connected to multiple towers, know of their location. The mobile switching center uses the location information to ensure that incoming calls and messages are routed to the tower nearest to the user.

If a subscriber is unable to get service, this location information is usually purged from the mobile switching center. But some location information may remain in call detail records. Some mobile operators may store the most recent communication between a device and a mobile switching center for a certain period of time, usually 24 hours.

When someone is missing, even this small bit of information can prove useful in determining the approximate location of a device using the updates from the mobile switching center."

There are some interesting comments following the article as well as links to related stories. Read more....

In The News: $500 Rides For Lazy Pike's Peak Hikers

I can't relate. People actually hike to the top of a mountain, then call 9-1-1 because they're too tuckered--or too lazy--to hike back down? Apparently, they do.

Located near the city of Colorado Springs, Pike's Peak is the second most visited mountain in the world next to Japan's Mt. Fuji, so says the article in the Denver Post, entitled, "$500 Rides for Lazy Pike's Peak Hikers Pondered." The summit, at 14,115 feet, can be accessed either on foot on 12.6-mile Barr Trail with a 7,500-foot elevation gain or by vehicle on the 19-mile toll road operated by the city. More than half a million people visit the summit by one means or another each year.

And some of those who walk aren't up for the return trip. El Paso County's all-volunteer Search & Rescue team has had its fill of running two-and-a-half hour "taxi missions" to retrieve these pooped hikers and have stopped doing so, so Pike's Peak Highway officials are now considering a plan to charge uninjured callers for the service. According to the proposal, hikers who request a ride before highway rangers have gone home would be charged $100, while the fee would rise to $500 after hours and even higher if plowing is necessary.

A sign warning of the fees would be placed halfway up the Barr Trail.

The Denver Post article generated quite a few comments, with the vast majority of respondents (if not all?) in favor of the new fines.

One hiker was already fined $500 last December, when he arrived at the summit after dark and broke into the restaurant and gift shop to avoid freezing. (He was also charged for the broken window.)

So what do you think about this? Do you think the fine (and trail sign) will deter people from calling and, thefore, put them at risk? Or do you think it's the way to go?

The Mattson Consensus

At the start of a recent search, our SAR Coordinator handed each of us at the staging area a piece of paper, and on that paper was written the following:

ROW=                        A-I


I stared at him blankly, knowing only that ROW stands for "Rest of the World," and then he explained:

The numbers one through ten corresponded with the ten numbered segments he'd drawn on the map laid out on the hood of his vehicle. First, with each of us working independently without discussing the values, we'd give a percentage to the ROW. In other words, what's the probability the missing subject is not in the search area--segments 1-10--at all? And, regardless of what some of us believed, we could not assign the ROW a probability of 100%. We had to leave some room for the search area. So I estimated generously low and wrote 70% on my paper.

Next, we'd assign each numbered segment a lettered value, A through I, as follows:

A - very likely in this segment
C - likely in this segment
E - even chance
G - unlikely in this segment
I - very unlikely in this segment

I looked from the map to my paper and back time and time again and kept changing my mind, second-guessing my assumptions. I kept having to remind myself that the presumption was supposed to be a "despondent subject" as opposed to, let's say, "stranded subject trying to get home."

After I and the rest of the group of searchers, deputies and detectives filled out our papers, we handed them to the Coordinator, who then turned to his laptop and started punching in numbers as he went through each page.

I had no idea at the time that what he was doing was using what's called the "Mattson Consensus," with an experimental lettering method developed by Dan O'Connor, a former contract helicopter pilot for flight operations at Grand Canyon National Park.

Typically, the Mattson Consensus employs the use of percentages for each search segment. In the end, the sum of each "expert's" percentages, including that of the ROW and all designated search segments, must total 100%, with no segment being assigned 0%. (A zero would mean that the expert knew for a fact that the subject was not in a particular area.)

According to Mattson, it's best to perform this exercise privately, "because it will ensure that even meeker individuals will be able to express their opinion without being intimidated by the more vocal members of the group." (See: Search & Rescue and The Wisdom of Crowds)

With Dan O'Connor's method, the letters A through I are used for each search segment instead of percentages, and then a numeric value is assigned to each letter. This is what our SAR Coordinator was doing when he was entering all of our results into his CASIE computer program, resulting in a plan to first search the segments with the highest probability of area (POA) as suggested by our group's consensus. The computer figures out the segment percentages, rather than the members of the group having to do so.

The following explanation of the numeric values assigned to each letter is quoted from the "CASIE Help: Planning" section of the website:

Each letter that the expert has used is assigned a numerical value according to the scheme:

A = 9, B = 8, ..., I = 1, if the lowest letter used by that expert is an I.
A = 8, B = 7, ..., H = 1, if the lowest letter used by that expert is an H.
A = 7, B = 6, ..., G = 1, if the lowest letter used by that expert is an G.
A = 6, B = 5, ..., F = 1, if the lowest letter used by that expert is an F.
A = 5, B = 4, ..., E = 1, if the lowest letter used by that expert is an E.
A = 4, B = 3, ..., D = 1, if the lowest letter used by that expert is an D.
A = 3, B = 2, C = 1, if the lowest letter used by that expert is an C.
A = 2, B = 1, if the lowest letter used by that expert is an B.
A = 1, if the lowest letter used by that expert is an A.

Now the expert's total is obtained, and the ratio of the expert's numerically assigned value to the expert's total is that expert's POA for that segment.

An example may clear up any confusion. Imagine that an expert assigns a G to segment 1, an A to segment 2, and a G to the R.O.W. The lowest letter is a G, so we use the third line of the above table. The expert's total will be 9 (7 for the A, and 1 for each G). This expert's POA for segment 1 is 1/9, for segment 2 is 7/9, and for the R.O.W. is 1/9.

For our team's search, the resulting average percentage for the ROW was 54%, with segments 2, 3 and 9 having the highest POA. I don't yet have an answer as to the accuracy of this exercise in this particular search, because it is still ongoing, but one example of a real-life mission that used the Mattson Consensus is that involving Ranger Randy Morgenson, who went missing while on a solo backcountry patrol in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, California. While searchers did fail to find Ranger Morgenson's body during the mission period (eventually determined to be due to the high amount of runoff that summer), he was ultimately found 5 years later "within an area of high probability of discovery in the original search." Read the story here.