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Search and Rescue
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 March 2006 Feature
John McKently is a reserve commander with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He has over 30 years of search and rescue experience and has participated in almost 1,700 missions. He has been a member of Committee F32 on Search and Rescue since it was organized and just completed six years as committee chair.

Search and Rescue

A child who has wandered off from the family campsite; a hunter, hiker or skier who becomes lost; a patient with Alzheimer’s who strays from home; a motorist who drives off a steep mountain road; a law enforcement agency seeking clues to solve a crime — these are just some of the beneficiaries of the standards being created by Committee F32 on Search and Rescue.

Committee F32 on Search and Rescue was formed in 1988 when the National Association for Search and Rescue decided to create standards for search and rescue personnel. The NASAR board of directors realized that, to have valid standards, the tried-and-true ASTM International consensus process should be used. Since its inception the committee has created 35 standards with another 11 in the process.

A Wide Variety of Needs
Committee members come from all facets of the search and rescue community. Pilots, boat operators, firefighters, dog handlers, mountain climbers, cavers, mounted personnel, ski patrollers and many other specialties are represented. One of the unique things about this committee is that the members mirror search and rescue in general, that is, the majority are volunteers to the SAR community and participate on their own time and at their own expense. Even the manufacturer members volunteer on search and rescue teams, volunteer fire departments, emergency management agencies and similar organizations during their spare time. To meet the needs of this unique membership, the committee began to meet on weekends and now co-locates its meetings with other industry events — the annual NASAR Conference in the spring and the International Technical Rescue Symposium in the fall.

During a search and rescue mission we are working for the subject — the lost or injured person or, in the case of evidence searches, the victim of a crime. Committee F32’s standards help ensure that the proper personnel are activated and that all those involved are trained and competent for an efficient and safe mission conclusion. We should also remember that not all searchers are human. F 1847, Guide for Demonstrating Minimum Skills of Search and Rescue Dogs and Handlers, F 1879, Guide for Demonstrating Obedience and Agility in Search and Rescue Dogs, and F 1848, Classification for Search and Rescue Dog Crew/ Teams, obviously cover searchers of the canine variety. One of our newer activities is for mounted search and rescue. Drafts are being circulated for guides describing training for mounted searchers and minimum horsemanship skills.

It is rare for an SAR operation to break during good weather conditions. Emergency responders are on call 24/7 and must be able to work safely when most of us would rather be asleep or inside where it is warm and dry. Many of our standards relate to operations during inclement conditions. Draft standards WK542, Guide for Inflated Fire Hose Water Rescue Technique, and WK543, Guide for Using Hand Signals During Water Rescue Operations, are about to be balloted. F 1730, Guide for Throwing a Water Rescue Throwbag, and F 1766, Guide for Ice Awl Self Rescue, are two that are already approved. Our standards development efforts aid not only the subject but the rescuer as well. Recall some of the news reports from Hurricane Katrina and think about searchers wading at water’s edge in high winds in the dark of night. The ability to safely rescue a person in the water or to rescue themselves if they fall or are pulled in is essential. If worse things happen, the committee has written F 2047, Practice for Workers’ Compensation Coverage of Emergency Service Volunteers, to help them out.

Management Issues and Wilderness SAR
Many F32 standards relate to the management of the mission. F 1422, Guide for Using the Incident Command System in Managing Civilian Search and Rescue Operations, was one of the first standards created by the committee. It is being revised at this time to incorporate some of the lessons learned during recent large-scale disasters. Draft standard WK4167, Procedures for First Arriving Incident Commander to a Search Incident, is a work in process that, when completed, will provide aid in preplanning a response, thereby saving time and reducing calls for unneeded assistance.

As stated earlier, most search and rescue personnel, “ground pounders” in SAR terms, are volunteers. But aircraft, pilots, fuel, food, supervision, equipment — even things such as satellite communications — all come at a cost to someone. Anything that contributes to the efficiency of a search and rescue operation should translate to lower cost for the public, better care for the victim, and more safety for the SAR personnel involved.

Many of our members have a background in wilderness search and rescue, such as high-angle rock, snow and ice, or caves, and several F32 standards have been written because of needs in this area. Currently there are standards for avalanche beacons (used to find people buried in snow), carabiners (the metal snap links used by climbers, cavers and rescue personnel of all backgrounds), rescue rope (both a specification for it and a guide for inspection) and many more. Standards covering the use of maps, marking maps during a search, the classification of human search and rescue resources and, of course, training all contribute toward more efficient SAR operations. Large-scale or multi-day missions such as the search for debris from the space shuttle Columbia, the searches for survivors this past fall in the Gulf states, or even small local missions, if they go for multiple operational periods, depend upon standards to prevent chaos.

The general public benefits from F32’s standards in multiple ways. If you are lost, injured in a difficult-to-access area, or otherwise in need of SAR assistance, these standards help expedite the mission. If you are the searcher or rescuer, these standards help you do your job, select your equipment and will help keep you safe. If you are the agency providing the service, these standards will help you coordinate the mission in the best possible manner. It all comes down to saving lives. //

 
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