Of course Search and Rescue hopes, as much as you do, that you never have to meet them in the backcountry. Still, once you know who they are and what they do, it’s just as important to be responsibly prepared when you go out into the wilderness. And yes, Si, Tiger and Cougar mountains, count as wilderness. Our weather, mountains and conditions in this area make for potentially problematic wilderness situations even 45 minutes from downtown Seattle.

Search and Rescue

Things SAR wishes we all knew:

Who do you call when you need Search and Rescue?
Call 911 – They record their calls, so speak most pertinent info first – location, condition, needs, injuries. If you are very limited on cell phone battery, for example, make that clear immediately and make the most of what you have left. If there is an injury, state it. If you have food and shelter for 2 days, say so. The basics of survival boil to the top in situations of emergency, so it is best to know what those are and how they effect the way that search crews deploy and solve the problem at hand.

Your phone can make a big difference. There are becoming fewer searches because of the use of cell phones. Knowing how your cell phone can help you in a wilderness situation can be invaluable. Even if you don’t know where you are, a picture of your surroundings sent to the search crews by text message can help them determine where you are.

Search and Rescue

Who’s coming? SAR teams are vast and deep. When you make a call, it’s not just a couple EMTs that are sent up to you. It is literally teams and teams. The ground crews (ESAR), Base communications, Operations, Transport and location logisitics (4X4), and Incident Support Team each do an intergral part of the search operation. Still, they would rather all come get you than have you be afraid to call because you might be “causing someone too much trouble”.

Search and Rescue

Here are some more valuable bits straight from ESAR’s Paul MacAree:

  • Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back, 10 essentials of course.
  • Don’t hike alone.
  • SAR won’t pronounce judgment on you, bad things happen and even the best prepared can be lost or suffer an accident – call us if you need us.
  • Call 911 earlier rather than later. The longer you wait the more likely we will have to search in darkness and the more difficult the search will be.
  • If you are late back, someone you love may have got nervous and called us out – we may be looking for you.
  • Number one cause of preventable deaths in the woods is exposure (hypothermia). Always bring extra clothes to keep you warm and dry and bring a means of starting a fire. Even on a day hike. Campfires are also an excellent signal for rescuers.
  • Once you realize you are lost stay where you are UNLESS where you are is unsafe. Get to a safe, preferably visible, location and stay there. Only move around to stay warm but stay in that area. A moving subject is MUCH harder to find than a stationary one.
  • If you are standing next to a stream it will be more difficult for you to hear us and for us to hear you. Also the brush will be heavier next to the water. You may want to get up on a ridge or at least far away enough from water that the noise doesn’t interfere with your hearing.
  • If you are lost and you see a helicopter it may be looking for you – signal to it with rain gear, tarp, anything!
  • If you are lost and you think you hear someone calling it’s probably SAR – shout back, and shout back each time you hear us.
  • Keep your water warm – if it freezes it can be difficult to drink!
  • If you can see a landmark (for example Mt. Rainier)  and you know how to take a bearing with your compass tell 911 what that bearing was. If you know that it’s true or magnetic or don’t know, tell 911 that too.
  • Be prepared for a wait after the 911 call, SAR responders in King county are volunteers. After your call the 911 service has to page out the volunteers, they leave work and drive to search base and then set out to find you – it all takes time.
  • Photo of the surrounding area and text to us, even if it doesn’t mean anything to you it may mean something to us – and we may be able to get your co-ordinates from the picture.
  • Consider conserving your batteries – set up a time that you will turn it on with 911 – say 5 minutes before till 5 minutes after the hour.
  • Keep your batteries warm, they will last longer.
  • Text messaging often works even if you can’t get a signal for voice.
  • If you have a helicopter looking for you at night a cell phone or other light source will stand out like a beacon in the FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared Sensor).
  • Just because you can’t get a cell phone signal doesn’t mean we can’t get a radio tower ping off it. A ping may help us reduce the size of the search area.

And now you may ask:

Volunteers? Really? It might make more sense if we said it this way: Wouldn’t you rather have someone come out in the wilds to find you who is passionate, dedicated and really wants to do this, than some guy who calls it his “day job”. Think about it. Each of the members is there because they truly feel dedicated to the cause. They spend their free time training in the snow, on a mountain, hauling backpacks, gear and people so they can be prepared when a call comes.

Search and Rescue

KCESAR Course three March 5-6 2011 Photo Gallery 3

KCESAR Course three March 5-6 2011 Photo Gallery 4

If you are interested in volunteer opportunities for any of the KCSAR teams, visit their website.

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