Map, Compass & GPS

Map, Compass & GPS
Wild flowers along Fall Creek on the way to the Green Lakes - Oregon

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Helping Search and Rescue Teams

This summer my local Search and Rescue team has been really busy and is on track to go over 120 search missions this year. 

It’s 4:00 in the afternoon and weather conditions are worsening.  It has been a long day that started well before first light.  As darkness approaches you recognize that the hunt is over and you have no idea where you are, really are.  You have your pack with the right gear and extra food.  So, what are your options and how can you and help the Search and Rescue team.?

Search and Rescue teams are dedicated volunteers and professionals found in each county and province across North America.  They spend hours in training, certifications, and on missions looking for the lost and injured.

Helping the searchers begins at home well before the trip or hunt.   In Hunter Education, students are taught to always let a responsible person know where you are going and when you are expected to return.  If you don’t return, they are to call 911.  But there is more to it than that.  I suggest that your fill out a Trip Plan (visit the Link page at for the plan) just as a pilot would fill out a flight plan.  This plan gives the searchers more to go on; details are important to the searchers.  A vague statement of “he said he’d be hunting off the 400 road by Ball Butte” doesn’t help much.  Your trip plan should cover a lot more information such as the coordinates of your start point and camp, license plate numbers of your vehicle, a comment regarding any medical issues and the names of your partners in the wilderness.  Attach a map of your hunt area to the Trip Plan too.

Leave a copy of your Trip Plan with a responsible person, your family, a copy in camp, a copy with your partner’s family.  Be generous.

I’d like to share a few thoughts about that responsible person.  Discuss exactly what needs to be done.  The responsible person should clearly understand what your expectations are.  For example, if you don’t return on time, this person knows to call 911 right then.  They aren’t calling others asking for advice.  The search will begin only after 911 is called; wasting valuable time doesn’t help anyone.  As R. Lee Emory would say, this is not the time for a “namby-pamby” helper.

So, what can be done to help the Search and Rescue team? 

·        The first thing to do is STOP right where you are.  Just “park it.”  Searchers spend too much time locating wanderers.  They spend less time finding those that stay in place.

·        Try calling 911.  Call 911 before calling your responsible person and family.  Conserve your cell phone’s battery.  Use your emergency beacon or SPOT locator.

·        Think about your situation and observe your surroundings.  Can you make your situation better for the Search and Rescue team to find you?

·        Plan what you are going to do for the next hour, the next four hours and through the remainder of the night.

·        Establish your emergency camp.  Get your emergency shelter ready. 

·        Maintaining your body’s core temperature of 98.6 is now your primary job.  A warming fire goes a long way towards improving your situation and is a signal to the searchers.  Gather as much wood as you can in the remaining day light.

·        Manage your mind (that’s easy to say.)  Remain in control of your emotions and actions.  If you are with a small group that is lost, work as a team and share the load, resources and friendship.

·        Remember to stay where you are.  Wandering at night, navigating in the dark is a fool’s journey.  At night we have lost our visual clues and reference points. 

·        Stay hydrated.

        Use a whistle.

Of course, there are other actions you can take.  These are but just a few recommendations.

There are two references that I would suggest you consider:

·        Surviving a Wilderness Emergency, Peter Kummerfeldt, Outdoor Safe Press, 2006

·        Deep Survival, Laurence Gonzales, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2004

The first book by Kummerfeldt is an excellent primer on your road to learning about surviving a wilderness emergency.  Gonzales’ book is a fascinating read on who survives while others don’t. 

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