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.

Learn About Becoming a SAR Volunteer

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Rescuer's Eye-View of a Mid-Face Short Haul

"Jonathan Lytton was just climbing along last August on Dan’s Delight in Banff National Park, Alberta, and then he wasn’t: A rock fell from above, smashing his helmet and sending him from the sharp end of the rope into a leader fall. His first piece of protection pulled out and by the time he was caught by his partner and belayer, he’d plummeted 66 feet. The fall broke his ankle and some ribs, dislocated his shoulder, and left him unconscious for five minutes with head injuries."

Check out the rescue in the Canadian Rockies. I'll soon be adding this amazing video to the SARStories site.

Read about the rescue in "High Risk, High Drama in the Canadian Rockies" on Adventure Journal.

And thank you to photographer Christopher Eaton for bringing this story and video to my attention.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

2011 SAR Conferences

Mark your calendars....

This is a short list (so far), but these are the SAR conferences for which I've been able to find dates for 2011. Others have yet to be announced.

Know of a 2011 SAR conference not listed here? Please let us know in the comments section.

NASAR Conference
Where: Sparks, NV
When: June 2-4

Shephard's Search & Rescue Conference
Where: Bournemouth, UK
When: April 13-14

Arizona State SAR Conference
Where: Heber, AZ
When: April 15 -17 (Dates have been changed!)
Website: (no information has been posted yet)

Arizona SAR K9-CON
Where: Flagstaff, AZ
When: April 28 - May 1
Contact: Cindy McArthur at  
(Added: See: The Arizona K-9 Search and Rescue Conference for photos and video from this successful event.)

Washington State Search & Rescue Conference
Where: Cowlitz County Regional Event and Exposition Center
When: May 20-22

International Tech Rescue Symposium
Where: Fort Collins, CO
When: Nov. 3-6

Friday, October 8, 2010

K-9 SAR, Mounted SAR ... Raven SAR?

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
We all know about SAR dogs. And we know that searchers ride horses in the field, and that horses themselves have a knack for finding people. But Search & Rescue ravens?

Absolutely, says doctoral student Emily Cory. And she's got her pet raven, Shade, to prove it. When Shade showed signs of extreme intelligence, Emily decided to train him in the art of hide-and-seek in hopes of assisting search and rescue teams.

Emily grew up in Sedona, Arizona, where she would often hear helicopters flying over, searching for lost hikers. As an adult, Emily worked with birds at the Arizona-Sonora Museum, where a common raven caught her attention. She says, “[The raven] would play horrible tricks on the volunteers, she’d get in so much trouble. She never forgot a thing, never missed a thing [and] that really got my attention.”

So, Emily purchased Shade and began to train the bird to look for lost hikers by using elaborate games of hide-and-seek, while writing her Master’s thesis on the project. Shade demonstrated an uncanny knack for finding anything Emily would hide, sometimes looking in places Emily never thought to hide the objects. She also noticed that Shade understood verbal commands.

Emily Cory hopes to train Shade to work in the back country, flying back and forth between hiker and trainer with a GPS attached to his foot. But, as of yet, no colleagues or professors have agreed to support this research. Nonetheless, Emily has begun a Ph.D. program at the University of Arizona focusing on ravens and language.

Read: Someday This Raven May Come To The Rescue

Listen to the story on NPR

Friday, August 27, 2010

More Search and Rescue Reading

Scent of the Missing: Love and Partnership with a Search-and-Rescue Dog

In the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, Susannah Charleson clipped a photo from the newspaper: an exhausted K9 handler, face buried in the fur of his search-and-rescue dog. A dog-lover and pilot with SAR experience herself, Susannah was so moved by the image she decided to volunteer with a local canine team and soon discovered firsthand the long hours, nonexistent pay, and often heart-wrenching results they face.

Still she felt the call, and once she qualified to train a dog of her own, Susannah adopted Puzzle, a strong, bright Golden Retriever puppy who exhibited unique aptitude as a working dog but who was less interested in the role of compliant house pet. Puzzle's willfulness and high drive, both assets in the field, challenged even Susannah, who had raised dogs for years.

Scent of the Missingis the story of Susannah and Puzzle's adventures together and the close relationship they forge as they search for the lost--a teen gone missing, an Alzheimer's patient wandering in the cold, signs of the crew amid the debris of the space shuttle Columbia disaster. From the earliest air-scent lessons to her final mastery of whole-body dialog, Puzzle emerges as a fully collaborative partner in a noble enterprise that unfolds across the forests, plains, and cityscapes of the Southwest. Along the way, Susannah and Puzzle learn to read the clues in the field and in each other, to accomplish together the critical work neither could do alone and to unravel the mystery of the human/canine bond.

Susannah Charleson is a member of MARK-9, a canine search and rescue team based in Dallas, Texas. Flying SAR and crime scene photography for local law enforcement led Susannah, a flight instructor and commercial pilot, to join the team.

Check out this video of about "Scent of the Missing".....

Another recommended SAR book is Mountain Responderby Steve Achelis, who, as a member of Salt Lake County Search and Rescue Team, participated in hundreds of rescues that frequently made the evening news.

In a review in the July, 2010, issue of Mountain Rescue Magazine, SAR volunteer and ski patroler Julie Harrell writes, "Steve recreates each story starting with a pager message which is generally not a correct relay of information. Two missing hikers could morph into three Korean climbers who fell down a snow covered slide and are stuck in a snow cave, hoping for rescue while a blizzard rages outside. We follow him as he trudges through dangerous avalanche country, treats many fallen victims, uncovers seemingly innocuous injuries only to discover that they are life-threatening, and teaches us how to be better rescuers through his assumptions, successes and near mistakes. He collaborates, leads, follows, honors and shares everything with his rescue team, giving each of them a lot of personal credit throughout the book."

Mountain Responderis available on Amazon.

Monday, August 2, 2010

So Many Skills, So Little Time (To Get Rusty)

Now that I'm home in Arizona after three months in Nepal and getting back to SAR, I realize how rusty I am at a number of skills after not using them while I was away. I'm sure as I practice and review, what I feel like I've forgotten will come back fairly quickly. But on one recent mission, I found myself hesitating and really having to think about what I was doing when it came to certain skills that had been--or at least were becoming--more second nature before I left. It just goes to show that SAR work involves a lot of ongoing training and practice, and we can't take those skills for granted if we don't use them for a while.

So I was thinking about all the learning I've done since getting involved with SAR three years ago:

Alternative navigation (things like using the stars, sun, and moon, pacing and reading terrain)
Map and compass
ATV operation
Snowmobile and snowcat operation
Rappelling and ascending
Anchor systems
Lowering and raising systems for technical rescue
Patient packaging
Backcountry medical skills (Wilderness First Responder)
Mid-face pick-offs
Rigging the litter for technical rescue
Truck and trailer training
Winch operation and safety
Helicopter safety
The National Incident Management System (NIMS training)
Alzheimer's and Dementia Patient Search

There have been important details like learning to attach the wheel to the litter, how to properly secure the ATVs to the trailer, how to estimate probability of detection. And the list goes on. Heck, I think I've learned more in three years of SAR than I did in five years of college. At least, more practical, hands-on skills.

So what's the point of this post? Oh, just sharing my thoughts as I get back up to speed after a few months away and then continue to learn and practice. And I would say to any new or perspective SAR member, search and rescue skills aren't something you learn once and then use now and again when you go on a mission. You really need to put the time in to practice, both on your own and as a team, on an ongoing basis, even if there are no missions for a while. Otherwise, you could find yourself on a real mission not remembering how to perform some important skills and therefore becoming more of a hindrance than a help.

Our team requires each member to participate in certain General SAR skills trainings (ie. GPS, map and compass, ATV operation, truck and trailer training, etc.) once every three years, but that's assuming we're practicing on our own and during missions in between. As far as our technical rescue team goes, we have to pass a basic skills test each year. What about your team (if you're on one)?

Friday, April 23, 2010

TrailNote: A Free Online Alert System For The Outdoors

Going hiking, climbing, camping, kayaking, or embarking on any other type of outdoor activity? Inform TrailNote when, where, and how long you will be traveling, and if you don't return by a specified time, this website will electronically inform your contacts of your absence. While GPS, cell phones, and other wireless devices can't always get through (or perhaps you aren't able to operate the device for some reason), TrailNote is another safety backup that you can take advantage of.

What you do is register (for free) on, name your trip, provide a travel description, give a start time and end time, and mark your destination on a digital map. You also enter the email or text message addresses of people you would like to notify in case you do not return in time.

When you do return, you can use a computer or web-enabled cell phone to cancel your TrailNote. will provide a warning if you forget. In the event you don't return, TrailNote will automatically message everyone that you selected. The message will contain a link to and provide your contacts with the details of your trip--where you were going, the map information, and your contact information from your profile.

I asked the webmaster of a few questions, and here's what he said:

Q: Can you tell me who started this site and why?   

A: The site was created by Richard Visokey and Brandon Price.  The original concept of TrailNote came after reading an article about Aron Ralston, who became famous in 2003 when he was forced to amputate his lower right arm with a dull knife to free himself after his arm became trapped by a boulder when he was mountaineering in Utah . One of the main reasons Aron's situation became so tragic was that he did not inform anyone where he was going and remained trapped for days.  Additionally, we were reminded of the concept every time we would hear a report about a missing hiker making the news, which happened quite frequently.
The connection between the majority of the missing person reports was that the hikers were not leaving notes or plans of their trips. No one knew where they were going. 
We both felt that there must be a better way to keep people informed when you go out, and TrailNote was the solution.
Q: I realize it's a free site for users, but people may be interested to know how you fund it. 

A: All expenses are paid by us with no plans to charge users a fee.
Q: Do you have any stories to share about users who've been rescued due to a TrailNote?

We don't, and that is the truly great thing about TrailNote. With the detailed notes that are created, when an adventurer does not return in time, people are usually able to locate the missing person on their own, usually with just a phone call, with the TrailNote information provided. This doesn't mean that people are putting themselves at risk wandering the wilderness looking for missing people, but it means that the information a TrailNote provides allows people to locate an individual quickly and safely.
This also means SAR teams, the authorities, and the Forest Service save resources and time by only being notified of a missing hiker when an individual is truly missing. Additionally, they are also handed the TrailNote, giving them the detailed information. Now rescue services have a far better understanding of what type of rescue they are dealing with. This results in a quicker response time, increased safety to everyone involved, and less cost per rescue.
Q: What about someone failing to report in when they've returned, even though they DID return? Any comments or stories about that type of situation? 

A: TrailNote has safeguards to help prevent false alerts, but it still happens.  However, unlike EPRB or other electronic systems, TrailNote has a human element behind it.  When an alert goes out to the user's contact list, it typically results in only a quick phone call or text message to determine if the user simply forgot to turn off the alert or if an emergency exists.
Q: Many of the SARStoriesNews readers are Search & Rescue professionals (volunteer and paid), so I'm sure they'll be interested to learn about this site. May they contact you if they have questions?

A: We are always eager to talk about TrailNote as we are very proud of the system we created. If any of your readers have additional questions, do not hesitate to direct them to us. We will always take the time to answer any question and take suggestions about the service.

For more information, visit About TrailNote.
And here's a story from the Phoenix East Valley Tribune about TrailNote: Sends Out Emergency Alerts

Friday, April 16, 2010

Reverse 9-1-1

During a recent mission, our SAR coordinator made use of the Reverse 9-1-1 system to contact homeowners in a particular subdivision in the area of the missing subject, to ask them to check around their homes and in their sheds and other out-buildings where the mentally handicapped boy may have been hiding.

Reverse 9-1-1 can be used to advise residents in both large and small areas of an emergency or hazard (ie. a hazardous material spill, a wildfire or flood, etc.), to gather information to help solve a crime, and, as in the case above, to alert them to a missing person search. The system might be used to assemble volunteers or to contact an individual for a welfare check. In addition, Reverse 9-1-1 can be used as a community bulletin board of sorts and even for automatic faxing of information or instructions to certain people or local businesses. It can also be used to reconnect to a phone that was disconnected during an emergency call.

The Reverse 9-1-1 system uses a database of phone numbers and addresses combined with mapping technology, allowing emergency and law enforcement personnel to pinpoint a specific area or individual/s. At this time, however, cell phone numbers and Voice Over Internet (VoIP) services such as Vonage or others offered by cable companies are not in the system. Some TTY (TeleTYpewriter) numbers may be in the Reverse 9-1-1 database, but emergency services don't know which phone numbers are TTY compatible. So if you don't have a land line but would like to be contacted on your cell, VoIP, or TTY phone, you have to register your number within your county or city. The system can deliver text messages to TTY and TDD devices, so those who are deaf or hard of hearing can receive the Reverse 9-1-1 alerts. You should also register if you have an unlisted phone number or have recently changed your phone number.

I would suggest doing an online search for Reverse 9-1-1 signup and the name of your area. Or you can call your city or county dispatcher. (But don't call 9-1-1 to do so, of course!) This is an example of Coconino County, Arizona's signup web page: Ready Coconino.

Here's a great example of how Reverse 9-1-1 can be effectively and successfully used in Search & Rescue operations: Reverse 9-1-1 System Used in Search for 77-Year-Old Woman

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Canine Instinct--A SAR Dog Documentary

I recently received an email from filmmaker Nick Goodman about a new documentary he made called Canine Instinct, featuring search dog trainer, Kyle Warren. Kyle is with the Eagle Valley Search Dog Team, based in the Catskills and Upper Delaware River Valley of New York.

Nick Goodman spent several days filming the EV Search Dogs, including following Kyle and his dog, Quax, during some of his customized training sessions and at the Delaware River recovery effort on August 26, 2009. On that day, EV Search Dogs responded to Knight’s Eddy, NY, to help locate Hin Hon Siu, age 36, who had drowned a few days earlier.

April 22, 2010, is the world premiere of Canine Instinct at the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival.

Here is a short clip from the film, which can also be viewed on the SARStories website (Videos, page 6):

Canine Instinct is also the name of Kyle Warren's dog-training company through which he has trained more than 2,300 dogs. He's the author of the blog, Dog Finds Man, about his adventures with his Search and Rescue German shepherds, Quax and Maya.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Featured Site: Decisions For Heroes

Decisions For Heroes is a statistics collation software, helping Search & Rescue teams record and analyze their rescue operations and training. There is nothing to download, however; users access the tool as a web application. Teams enter incident and training exercise reports into this online program, and it will then tell the team how to improve their responses. The software tracks team member qualifications, equipment, and training, and the use of these things against incidents.

The Decisions For Heroes software has a feedback system that allows users to leave improvement suggestions. Typical users include Mountain Rescue teams, the Coast Guard, Search & Rescue canine handlers, Sheriff departments, and urban Search & Rescue teams.

Users sign in after each incident or training exercise to enter their activity report. The software will then automatically add the data to the team's records and update their stats. Rescue teams pay a monthly or annual subscription to gain access to the service. The program was trialed for 8 months with 1,800 rescuers in 5 countries.

One team that uses the Decisions For Heroes program is Inland NW Search and Rescue. INSAR is a multi-disciplined search and rescue organization located in the Pacific northwest and based in Spokane, Washington. They provide ground, high angle, mountain, and water search and rescue support to the region, with twenty-six field-ready team members and fourteen individuals currently in training.

Part of their requirement to become field ready is to comply the Washington State Administrative Code (WAC 118.04.120) as it relates to search and rescue volunteers. INSAR has utilized the WAC guidelines to formulate a comprehensive set of requirements that their team members must complete and maintain in order to receive field ready status.

Joe Coates, the INSAR Training Officer, stated, “One of our greatest challenges was disseminating  information to our team members regarding training record status and notification of upcoming activities, as well as enhancing overall communication within our organization. Over the last year, we reviewed numerous database programs and internal web based solutions. We were not able to find one that completely fulfilled our requirements."

Until they found Decisions For Heroes, that is. Coates goes on to say, "Early in 2010, we discovered a corporation based in Ireland named Decisions for Heroes. They are a group of search and rescue professionals who developed an easy-to-implement but comprehensive, web-based solution. This has provided the leadership and team members within the INSAR organization with resources beyond our expectation. The database tracking of an individual’s qualifications, team calendar with auto notification of events, internal communication via e-mail, chat, and whiteboard along with extensive report generation and analysis has provided us with tools that will allow our organization to position itself for the future. Decisions for Heroes has been extremely responsive to questions as they have arisen and are very open to suggestions for future enhancement to their search and rescue solution.”

Information and a video regarding Decision for Heroes may be found at

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A SAR Impersonator

This information was posted on the SAR-L email list and, with permission, I'm sharing it here in order to help spread the word:

During a massive search in the San Diego area, a man named Stephen Watts, a.k.a Steph (pronounced "Steff"), presented himself to the Sheriff's Department and coordinating agencies as a member of 1st Special Response Group (1SRG), a known and reputable organization, in an attempt to insinuate himself into law enforcement search efforts. Soon after, Mr. Watts began blogging about his actions, including sensitive search information.

1SRG has never had a member, past or present, by this name or any reasonable variation, nor have they ever received and/or denied an application by such a person.

1SRG launched an investigation and determined that Stephen Watts is a freelance "investigative" reporter who provides titillating and "newsworthy" information to on-air broadcasts such as Nancy Grace, Greta Von Susteren, CourTV (now HLN), and other entertainment providers.

1SRG is sharing this information because Mr. Watts appears to have repeatedly joined with Texas Equusearch in their efforts and has made a number of other attempts prior to his actions in San Diego to insert himself into other search missions. He falsely stated that he was with 1SRG in an effort to further his own cause. Apparently, he has done this before, and 1SRG is concerned that he may try to do so again in the future.

From information obtained during the investigation, Mr. Watts arrived in San Diego, along with Tim Miller and Texas Equusearch, in the search for the McStay family. You can read the McStay relatives' account of  their experience with Mr. Watts at

While in San Diego with Texas Equusearch, Chelsea King disappeared, and Mr. Watts used that opportunity to get involved with a growing national news story.

After verifying their initial information with several agencies and individuals, 1SRG notified both the San Diego County Sheriff's Department and the California Emergency Management Agency, the local SAR coordinator, state SAR coordinator, and, since this was an investigative effort that included federal agencies, contacts within the FBI. Based on further discussion, this issue is said to have been "handled and considered resolved."

1SRG also attempted to contact Mr. Watts through his personal webpage, his Facebook page, a phone number he gives on his website, and through email, in addition to their posts on the SAR-L lister and elsewhere. Mr. Watts has not returned their contacts.

On March 12th, formal "cease and desist" letters were sent to Mr. Watts, CourtTV/HLN, Nancy Grace, Greta Von Susteren, and those agencies who employ Mr. Watts for their "news" services, instructing them that any attempt to use 1SRG's name, logo, reputation, or other team affiliation would be met with legal action and that 1SRG would assist other SAR teams who may find themselves in a similar position.

This information is being provided in the attempt to stop Mr. Watts from breaching law enforcement and search mission security as he seeks confidential or legally protected information, as well as to protect both 1SRG and other SAR teams from those same efforts.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A SAR-Related Adventure In Nepal (And A Book To Follow)

So, I'm not sure how many of you who read this blog also follow Deb's Search & Rescue Stories (or any of my other online ramblings), but JUST in case you don't, I wanted to let you know about my upcoming trip to Nepal, where I'll be hanging out with the country's only SAR team for three months beginning in May, 2010. (And if you've heard about this umpteen times already, I apologize.)

Anyhow, last November, the founder of the Himalaya Rescue Dog Squad Nepal, Dutchman Ingo Schnabel, contacted me to see if I'd be interested in writing a book about them. This would mean traveling halfway round the world, of course ... which took a few minutes of consideration on my part.

Twenty years ago this past October, Ingo followed through on his dream of starting a SAR team in Nepal. Ingo explains how this came about in a post on Nepal Friends in Times of Need. He wrote:

"I was sitting in Maastricht in the Netherlands in front of the Television, a beer in one hand and potato chips in the other. I was just 41 years old and had traveled half the world. I was a researcher in Africa, a dog trainer (Imperial Iranian Air Force) and Biology teacher in Tehran, then called the Empire of Iran, where Shah-Han-Shah Reza Pahlevi , the powerful Emperor, crumbled at that time and I had to leave.

"Back in the Netherlands, I tried my best to settle down, and I got fat and lazy. Then suddenly, in front of that TV, I saw a program about the misery after the earthquake in Darjeeling and Dharan in 1988. I remembered that I had promised to my Tibetan friend Lobsang that I would come to India and Nepal and start a dog breeding center for earthquake relief. I jumped up, switched off the TV and selected six dogs from different local breeding centers and started fund raising and their training in Maastricht at the motorcycle road race trajectory in the forest. A year later, on October 8, 1989, I arrived with these dogs in Nepal and have never left the country since."

During those 20 years in Nepal, Ingo and the team have started hospital camps in remote areas of the country and even a special school that doesn't adhere to Nepal's caste system. (See the video below.) They respond to natural disasters, such as earthquakes, landslides and flashfloods, mass casualty and medical situations, and to reports of missing and injured trekkers. The more I learn about Ingo and the HRDSN, the more fascinated and excited I become about the trip. I only hope I can do their story justice. I'll write the book when I return to Arizona.

Here's that video about the school Ingo started....

To read more about my upcoming trip and perhaps consider a pledge towards the project in exchange for a signed copy of the book (once published) and other backer rewards, visit my Kickstarter page. There, you can also read a number of project updates and HRDSN member introductions.

While I'm in Nepal, I won't be able to keep up on this blog (so if anyone is interested in guest posts, let me know!), but I will be blogging about the experience and the exploits of the HRDSN on Deb's Search & Rescue Stories and posting updates on my project's Facebook fan page.

Related article:
My Adventure in Nepal

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Following GPS Into Trouble

Ever participated in or heard of a SAR mission necessitated by a driver blindly following a vehicle GPS device (sometimes called "Sat Nav) into trouble? Here in Arizona, the shortest route to a destination certainly isn't always the best route, with drivers occasionally ending up stranded in remote areas on rough, unpaved roads that sometimes all but disappear into the desert. 

After recently reading the story, Couple Following GPS Unit Stranded For Three Days, I decided to see how many related stories I could find. In about thirty-minutes' time, here's what I came up with, including this video:

Or view the video on YouTube.

Related news articles:

11-Year-Old Boy Dies After Mom Says GPS Left Them Stranded in Death Valley
The mom told rescuers in California's San Bernardino County that her son days after she fixed a flat tire and continued into Death Valley, relying on directions from a GPS device in the vehicle.

GPS Unit Leads Truck Driver Into Train Collision
A Florida big rig driver said his GPS instructed him to take a right turn just before the crossing and continue down the unpaved path.

Couple Gets Stranded After Following GPS "Advice"
It was supposed to be a quick trip to see family for Christmas, but a GPS’ offer of a shorter route left one couple and their young daughter stranded in deep snow in the middle of nowhere.

Road To Nowhere: GPS Leading Some Colorado Drivers Astray
Drivers on their way to Crested Butte are led down an old mining road, which hasn't been maintained since the 1800's. It's impassable in the winter and in the summer.

Sat-Nav Driver's 1,600-Mile Error :
A truck driver programmed his destination--the Rock of Gibraltar--as he left Turkey, but because Gibraltar is technically part of the UK, the device routed him to another Gibraltar – a shore town in England.

Sat Nav Driver's Car Hit By Train :
A 20-year-old's GPS led her to a gate she didn't realize was a railroad crossing.

Sat Nav Dunks Dozy Drivers In Deep Water
Since a road was closed, dozens of UK drivers have followed directions from their satellite navigation systems, not realizing that the recommended route goes through a ford.

GPS Routed Bus Under Bridge, Company Says:
A charter bus driver ferrying a high school softball team relied on a GPS system and didn't notice the clearance signs. The 11-foot high bus plowed into a 9-foot high bridge. 23 people were briefly hospitalized and the bus was destroyed.

Sat Navs Damage 2,000 Bridges Per Year
UK's Network Rail claims 2,000 bridges are hit every year by truck drivers who've been directed along inappropriate roads for their size.

Driver Follows GPS Into Sand :
An 80-year-old blindly follows his GPS into a construction site, and his vehicle gets trapped in sand.

Motorists Switch Sat Nav On, Brain Off :
A German man's GPS system said "turn right now," and he obeyed. He collided with a structure, damaging his car and the structure. He was fined.

£96,000 Merc Written Off As Sat Nav Leads Woman Astray
Following the instructions on her navigation system to use a creek ford, the driver failed to notice it was swelled by torrential rain. The car was swept away and she had to be rescued. The car was a total loss.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Follow-Up To Determining Direction Of Sound

My previous blog post, Determining Direction of Sound During a Search received some very interesting comments, including a couple from Del Morris of the Sonoma County Sheriff's Search & Rescue / Helo Unit. Del wrote an article (2003) about the use of sound during searches:


The controlled use of sound during searches for a responsive subject is a stratagem that should be a practice of every SAR Team.

At a "Sound Sweep" exercise, we were debriefing our "victims" and our searchers, graphing/mapping the time and location of each "whistle blast" and the victim's perception of direction from where the sound was coming from. We discovered that the distance of sound travel and perception of sound direction was so variable that it deserved further study.

After some additional field testing and research in acoustics, I offer the following suggestions:

1] Shift to lower frequency whistles 2000-3000 Hz or fog horns (marine supply) Plastic horns(sports events) Compressed air horns (marine supply). The higher frequencies are “absorbed” by humidity and vegetation.
The lower frequencies will more readily bend around vegetation and rocks.

2] “Whistle Blasts” a.k.a. “Whistle Stops” can be done during the normal course of a Team Assignment whenever you are "inline" with a drainage *** Contact SAR Base and request a "WHISTLE STOP". SAR Comm. will then orchestrate a "Whistle Stop" by contacting all Teams, giving all teams time to get "inline" with other drainages, and doing a count down ( 3...2...1) to a great blast" just like during a "sound sweep" ... followed by that all important listening period.

3] Teams that are on ridges will be at a disadvantage. Their whistles will be difficult for the subject to discern direction of the team. The subjects return whistle blows or yells for help will be equally difficult for the team to accurately determine the location of the subject.

4] Teams that are at the bottom (below the subject) of a drainage will a)have the best chance of hearing the subject in the drainage and b) have the most accurate direction of where the subject is. They will hear the subject better than the subject will hear them.

5] Teams that are at the top (above the subject) of a drainage will a)have the best chance of the subject in the drainage hearing them and b) have the second most accurate direction of where the subject is. The subject will hear them better than they will hear the subject.

6] Frequency is more important than additional decibels. 3 -110db whistles does not equal 330db. The combined decibel level is only about 117db. Sound level does not build exponentially. Some frequencies “blown” side by side can actually cancel each other do some degree.

DISTANCE was greatly increased with the lower frequencies of sound (yelling was heard a lot further than a whistle). The lower feqs are not gobbled up as readily by vegetation and the moisture in the air. I reference the use of low freqs in Fog Horns. Our “victims” all heard "yelling" before they heard a discernible "whistle" at a time when the "yelling" teams were further away. Whistles seemed to be blended with the crickets and other background noises.

DIRECTION or the perception of direction was more accurate when teams were "blowing" or yelling while inline with the drainage where the victim was. Blows that were blown by teams that were on the sides of hills or tops of ridges ... the victims found the sound very difficult discerning from "forest" noise and on the whole non-directional.

Sound seems to carry better up hill than down hill, better with the wind than against.

WHISTLE STOP can be used during any "phase" of a search for a responsive subject. Hasty teams running trails, dog teams doing area searches, etc. ... WHISTLE STOP is a more effective use of person power.
A comparison could be made between "closed grid" search lines (Sound Sweep) and "open grid" purposeful wandering (WHISTLE STOP) searching methods.

Del Morris
Sonoma County (CA) SAR Unit

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fraudulent Organization Takes Over SAR Site

I recently received an email from a former trainer from a now-defunct Ohio K9 team, who'd noticed a link to their website on my SARStories K9 Team Directory.  She wrote,

"I just wanted to inform you that Ohio K9 Search Team officially chose to cease operations in 2008. ... The web page to which you are linked is a fraudulent site sponsored by some Russian group.  We discovered that, after we closed our website, this Russian group took it over and is fraudulently collecting money by using our name.  ...  We former K9 team members have contacted the Russian group and asked them to stop using our name and our photographs, but since the [Ohio] team no longer officially exists, there is nothing we can do about it."

The former team member went on to say that they reported this fraud to the Better Business Bureau, various police agencies, and the Ohio Attorney General's office, but they were told there is nothing anyone can do to make this Russian organization stop using their name or photographs.

She explained, "Apparently, there are organizations that search for domain names that are not being renewed and they take over the websites.  We notified the internet server holding the domain name that we would not be renewing, but our photographs and other information did not get deleted on one of our websites.  So, the fraud-based organization took over the site and added a link for people to donate money. ... When we existed, our team was never linked with any person or group from another country.  We also never collected money over the internet.  Unfortunately, since the rogue group paid for our domain name, they can do whatever they want with it, and we have no control or say in the matter."

There is also concern about this fraudulent group meeting with potential volunteers.  A contact from a local park called to ask if the K9 team was supposed to be training there.  Apparently, a woman sent an email to the web site, inquiring about the group, and she was invited to a training session.  When she arrived, the only vehicle around was an old van with two "suspicious-looking men" inside.  Concerned, the woman then went to the park office.

The former team member tells me the group that has taken over the website has ignored attempts to contact them.

What do you think about this situation? It certainly seems to me that something should be able to be done about this.

See the website--"the Official Ohio K9 Search Team, Inc."--at  Note the comment about Russian organizations on the bottom of the first page, in very small, gray print.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Featured Site: Search and Rescue Knowledge Exchange

I recently started participating on a site developed by Ian "Splash" Turner, a member of S.A.R.A.I.D. (Search And Rescue Assistance In Disasters), a British organization "dedicated to trying to save the lives of innocent victims of disaster, as well as relieving human suffering around the world regardless of color, creed, religion and political persuasion." (Members of S.A.R.A.I.D. have been deployed to Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake. You can read their updates on their blog, S.A.R.A.I.D. News, and via their posts on Twitter.)

Ian's website, Search and Rescue Knowledge Exchange, is a place for anyone, whether involved with SAR or not, to ask SAR-related questions and, if able, to provide answers to those questions. As the FAQ says, "No question is too trivial or too 'newbie.'" Questions may also pertain to gear and book reviews and backcountry skills.

Some of the recent questions and topics have included:
  • How do you get involved with Search and Rescue?
  • How to deal with the problems of timing and team member attendance at a debrief following a mission
  • Filtering water in the outdoors
  • What is the best way to manage team training records?
  • The best way to sleep rough
  • What is the right amount of medical training for a SAR participant?
Visit Search & Rescue Knowledge Exchange to browse questions and answers and jump in if you'd like. You can even ask and answer your own question, and multiple answers are permitted and encouraged for each question. Answers may include links to outside sources and/or to other Q&A threads on the site.

You don't have to register to participate--to ask and answer--but there are additional features available to those who do register with an OpenID account.


And here are some recent SAR articles...

Wayward Berthoud Pass beacon a problem for search and rescue teams: "A wilderness rescue device designed as a "just in case" safety lifeline has developed into a recurrent nuisance. ... A string of eight false alarms in the past month has renewed debate over the controversial personal locator beacons (PLBs) and leaves local rescue experts frustrated over a lack of backcountry education in the technological era."

UK Search and Rescue Teams Saving Lives in Haiti
: "Search and Rescue teams from the UK are among the first to travel to the devastated town of Leogane to continue their search for survivors of the Haiti earthquake."

FDNY-NYPD team in amazing three-hour rescue of man trapped under layers of concrete: "It took three hours to cut through the rebar and cement blocks and dig a narrow crawlspace into the pile of rubble where the apartment building once stood."

No Way Up Or Down: "Documents describing last summer's massive search [in Grand Canyon] for Bryce Gillies show he was on the brink of Thunder River that may have been just out of sight when he returned to the next drainage, where he went down a series of steep pour-offs."

Monday, January 11, 2010

Some Interesting SAR Articles

For those of you on the SAR-L email list and/or the Search & Rescue Discussion Group on LinkedIn, you may already have seen most or all of these. But here are some articles from the world of SAR I've read lately that I found interesting:

Spot + GPS = new device introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show: (pictured here) "Unlike the traditional Spot device, the Earthmate PN-60W will allow the user to transmit custom messages, which can be sent to your emergency contacts as well as your Twitter and Facebook friends." (And Search & Rescue)

Police Train Vultures To Find Human Remains: "German police are testing the use of vultures to seek out human corpses in a unique project aimed at dramatically speeding up criminal investigations."

GPS Leads 3 Parties Astray in Oregon: "In a holiday hurry, Jeramie Griffin piled his family into the car and asked his new GPS for the quickest way from his home in the Willamette Valley across the Cascade Range."

Editorial: Personal Responsibility Seems Missing Among Hunters Stranded By Storm: "How do you prevent people from putting themselves in so much danger of death or injury that someone else has to come rescue them? Should they be charged for the rescue? Should they be fined if it turns out they were breaking a rule or regulation? Should they be barred from returning to, say, a national park where they were rescued?"

Boy Escapes Death Despite 16 Hours In Freezing Cold: "In an amazing story of survival a 13-year-old boy survived more than 16 hours in the freezing cold California mountains without shoes."

Searching With Compassion, Surviving With Grace: "If you're looking for courage, dignity and faith this holiday season, it's in plain sight with search-and-rescue teams and the loved ones of the lost."

Find any interesting SAR articles lately? Let me know, and I'll add them to my SARStoriesNews posts, including who submitted them (with a link to your SAR or team site if applicable).