Disasters strike all the time, often without warning. As a search and rescue (SAR) responder, you must always be ready for the next call. Although rescue missions may vary, successful efforts always require planning and preparation. Unfortunately, most calls need you on-site immediately, leaving you very little time to organize your move. Despite the fast-paced nature of SAR, there are ways to gear up for a response. Here are some useful tips.
Table of Contents
Get Proper Continuous Training
Rescue missions are high-stress. Things happen too fast, and you don’t have the luxury to learn on the job. Taking your sweet time, losing your cool, or rushing could cost lives. You have to train thoroughly to acquaint yourself with the possible scenarios you may encounter in real life.
The duration and frequency of training depend on the team and level. Most community emergency response teams (CERT) only require about 20 hours of initial training, monthly refresher courses, and biannual drills to keep members sharp. More skilled SAR groups, like marines, have to train twice or thrice daily to stay sharp.
The nature and occurrence of disasters are quite diverse. It could be a fire, collapsed building, plane crash, derailed train, or anything else. That makes SAR a highly dynamic field requiring broad training. Here are some of the basic skills you should possess as a SAR responder to be mission-ready:
- CPR and first aid training to stabilize survivors
- Knowledge of basic SAR leads and clues to follow
- Knowledge of various SAR technologies that aid missions
- Navigation skills like using maps and GPS
- Swimming and lifeguard training to prepare you for water rescue efforts
- Stress management and counseling to better deal with emergency victims and their families
In addition to acquiring a job-specific skillset, you need basic resistance and strength training. That should improve and maintain the strength of your back muscles, which will be useful in lifting and pulling out victims. Be sure to undergo drills and train regularly so you’re as ready as you can be when confronted with a real disaster.
Be Familiar with Your Area of Operation
Knowledge of the terrain is vital to any search and rescue expedition. You should strive to traverse your work region and have updated information on waterways, travel routes, cliffs, road accesses, and landing zones. Walk around these places as often as you need to master them. Having this information will give you clues on where to start searches. It will also make identifying a distressed person’s location easier, even with the sparse information they may offer in panic.
The good thing is that most SAR teams get so many calls a year that you’ll likely be familiar with your area even if you don’t walk around often. For instance, at the Grand Canyon, the SAR team responds to an average of 300+ calls every year. The calls range from falls over the Canyon’s edge to heat illnesses. If you’ve been a member of such a team for several months, you’ll likely be familiar with the hotspots where accidents are most likely to occur, making your rescue missions faster.
Have Appropriate Rescue Gear
SAR missions are not always a day’s job. Some operations will have you hooked for weeks. You may have to stay out in the woods for days, depending on how far the site is from residential houses and hotels. For comfort and efficiency, here are some essential gear you should pack:
Forcible Entry Equipment
On a SAR mission in more urban areas, you never know where you will find your victim. They could be under thick concrete or behind locked or barricaded paths. As such, while responding to a call, you must carry equipment that will allow you to enter blocked passages forcefully. The nature of the expedition will determine the specific equipment to pack. Some of the most common tools you will use for this purpose include drills, flathead axes, bolt cutters, halligan bars, and pry bars. Some of these are bulky and are better left at a station or in a vehicle near the site until a need arises.
A vast majority of SAR missions require you to lift. The victim might be immobile when you find them, necessitating a basket stretcher. Other common lifting tools you will need for your operations include evacuation chairs, spinal immobility equipment, and high-pressure lifting bags. You should always pack carabiners and lifting slings to hook and lift victims or objects like stretchers and bags easily.
One of the most important pieces of protective gear you’ll need is the helmet. Your duties may include going down cliffs, sifting through rubbles, or climbing mountains. In all the above scenarios, you’re at risk from falling objects, slipping on loose debris or slick surfaces, or hitting your head. A helmet ensures your head is safe throughout the exercise. Try out different types of helmets and pick one that fits well and is easy to work in.
The other protective gear you’ll require are goggles to safeguard your eyes and earplugs, especially when you must drill or work closely with a chopper. Boots and rainwear are also critical to help you navigate the terrain and keep warm as you continue your search. Remember to wear gloves to protect your hands from friction and toxic substances.
In addition to protective gear, you may need several other personal items to keep you comfortable in an SAR expedition. One such item is a first aid kit. Its size and contents will depend on the type of supplies you need. Ideally, you should have a size that you can comfortably attach to your body in case you must briefly leave your backpack behind to enter a tight space. Below is a list of other essential supplies you should always pack as a responder:
- Water and food to sustain you throughout the search
- A trail tape to leave a trail for your team to follow in case you need any help
- A signal mirror to signal your team and victims
- A compass and map for navigation
- A sleeping bag in case you have to spend nights in the woods
- A source of light and firestarters
- A Cook kit
- A Whistle for communication
- Personal medication
- A list of your health conditions, allergies, and active medication stuck somewhere visible on your body.
You can carry any other personal items you may need, provided they are useful and light enough to move around with. Also, whenever you take a break, spare some time to replenish supplies like water in case you’re urgently recalled to the search.
Keep an Updated Resource Inventory and Rescue Guidelines
Having a response plan eliminates the need to formulate one mid-rescue. Besides, knowing exactly how to approach a situation when it arises keeps you calm and ready to go. That makes rescue operations faster and easier. Although some missions may require you to tweak your plan, that’s way better than drawing a new one in the middle of every other operation.
Also, you must maintain an inventory of your resources at all times. Replenish any supplies that need a restock and label all equipment clearly. As mentioned earlier, SAR is highly time-sensitive, and you barely have time to sort your gear once a call comes in.
In summary, preparedness is key to successful SAR operations. You must stay fit and skilled as a responder, for you never know when duty will call. Do as many drills and refresher courses as possible, and always have your response gear ready.