what to expect from SAR

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Mukluk
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what to expect from SAR

Post by Mukluk » March 25th, 2017, 12:26 pm

I'm a novice hiker/snowshoer. My trips so far are < 4 miles, but even so on less popular trails I've been struck by how few people one sees, especially in winter. I'm wondering what kind of response to expect in a couple of situations.

So far I've mostly been exploring Mt Hood area and cell phone reception is pretty good. If I call 911 with an emergency a couple miles out on a trail (say serious injury and can't get out on my own) and can give them a location, who's going to come and how long will it take?

What about if I don't return and my family calls?

Yes, I have the essentials and have been acquiring a few more things to deal with common issues (blister kit, splint, etc).

Thanks in advance!

squidvicious
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Re: what to expect from SAR

Post by squidvicious » March 25th, 2017, 1:34 pm

There are people here with direct experience of rescuing and being rescued who can answer far better, but just for some context: those kids from Texas who got into trouble on the Multnomah Falls trail recently? From the news reports, it was about 2 hours between when they called for help and when crews first reached them. And they were practically within sight of the lodge, at a trailhead that literally has its own freeway exit. Even a straightforward rescue where they know exactly where you are is not quick.

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retired jerry
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Re: what to expect from SAR

Post by retired jerry » March 25th, 2017, 1:56 pm

yeah, there are experts here

I've noticed sometimes they wait until the next day to set off finding someone. You better be able to get by for a day or two.

Lurch
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Re: what to expect from SAR

Post by Lurch » March 27th, 2017, 8:45 am

I'm guessing "It depends.." wouldn't be a satisfactory answer? 2-24 hours?

First off, there is an important difference between a search (finding a lost person) and a rescue (performing a medical extraction). Sometimes the mission is both, sometimes one turns into the other, sometimes it's neither. The county Sheriff is responsible for all SAR within their county. Some offices have specific dedicated teams within the office, others use 'unaffiliated' teams as their primary field resource. Nearly all of us are willing to travel if we're requested, but there are certainly unofficial and official boundaries.

Generally speaking, your call is going to go into 911. There could be some transferring involved depending on which towers pick you up, and whether it goes to the appropriate county. A good call-taker will go through the process to get a phase 2 ping, in which case we'll have decently reliable coordinates to go from (this can be highly dependent a number of factors, that could be a thread in its own).

From there, dispatch will notify an on-call SAR coordinator for the appropriate county. They will assess the situation, possibly have a patrol car go to the trailhead and verify that you're actually in the field, and activate SAR resources from there. We have urgency workflows to help determine how critical the scenario is. Generally speaking, everything beyond this Sheriff's response, and the coordination of the full mission is performed by unpaid volunteers...

From a teams perspective, we would get notified by the coordinator, and then have to notify our team. There's going to be a delay there, for people to respond, and get from where they are to where they need to be. Some teams have a central meet location, others tend to send searchers directly to the trailheads in need, there are pros and cons to both, but I prefer the former.

Once a team has rallied, they need to get to their search location, from there they need to start the hike / search to actually find the subject. It's a safe bet that however long it took for you to get from your car to where you are, it's probably going to take search teams just as long. If you're about to complain that we're slow than remember a few things, 1: We're carrying a LOT of gear, most search packs can run 40+ pounds, and we're carrying survival equipment for multiple people, for multiple days if need be, on top of communications, medical, navigation, and all the other bells and literal whistles that are needed to be able to perform anything that may be required out there. 2: We're coming from our normal lives. Most searches come out in evening hours, or late at night when people finally realize they're lost and are not going to make it back to their vehicle without help. That's fine, but it's not like we're sitting in a firehouse waiting for a call, we're coming off a full day's work. 3: Unless we specifically know it's a rescue and there are already other resources with the subject, we're generally hiking in search mode, and actually paying attention to where we go, who and what we see. You'd be surprised how often we get to where they should be and they're no longer there, and that significantly changes the game.

So, in general, if you make the call, from the field, and we have a good cell ping, and you stay put after making the call and don't get antsy and try to self rescue, it should be a quick in and out. You've probably got at least an hour, probably closer to 2 before we're actually in the field, and then some time for us to actually get to you.

If your family is the one calling, things tend to slow down. Firstly, they'll usually wait. If you give them a "I should be out by now" time, or even if you give them a "Get worried if I'm not home by now" time, they'll usually wait a few more hours to give you the benefit of the doubt. Compound that if they don't know what trailhead you were actually going to, and it's just something vague like "going on the mountain". Ground searches won't start unless we have somewhere to search, that in itself can delay response by days. We're also lacking cellphone pings, which reverts us to an 'oldschool' search model, and we have to work the problem in a different sort of way.

In Oregon, statistics say that 25% of missions are resolved within 2 hours, 50% within 4, 75% within 9, and 90% within 24.

Jerry: Yes, sometimes missions are delayed overnight, that could be for either weather/terrain conditions that slow a response for searcher safety, or if the subject is not actually in danger, and spending the night is simply an inconvenience (someone well prepared, in summer weather). As I said before, there are some very specific circumstances where the 'urgency' requirement isn't critical.

SV: To be fair, the main response to the Texans was local Fire Department, but the same numbers apply. There are some things close in where ramping up the whole SAR machine feels slow and unwieldy, but we honestly never know for sure what we're getting into until we're on scene, and those "quick and easy" ones that turn into a surprise / mystery are some of the most difficult, so we try our best to come prepared the first time.

squidvicious
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Re: what to expect from SAR

Post by squidvicious » March 27th, 2017, 4:36 pm

Mentioning the timing with the Texas kids was not meant as any criticism. Just the opposite. More like, Don't go out figuring 'I know there's cell phone coverage, so if anything goes wrong I can just call for help" and expect it to work anything like calling 911 from your house. Go out knowing that even in the best case of "gone wrong," you're going to be on your own for a good while, so prepare accordingly.

Lurch
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Re: what to expect from SAR

Post by Lurch » March 28th, 2017, 9:49 am

Sorry if that came across as defensive :D I wasn't intending it that way. Just to say that especially close in there may be other agencies than specifically SAR resources responding. Their response may pre-empt, or be entirely separate from an official SAR response since they may be more appropriate for things like traumatic injury. SAR may be notified, but put on standby to see if it can be quickly resolved. Most of the time that's fine, but sometimes they bite off more than they can chew, or more than they should, and you end up with people further in than they should be, or without appropriate equipment for the terrain/conditions. That's far from ideal, at worst they continue to push on, and it causes more problems, at best they back out, and the response is further delayed.

It's definitely an evolving field, with new technology coming daily, and flowing between searchers and hikers. Our common mission types have changed dramatically over the last decade.

Mukluk
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Re: what to expect from SAR

Post by Mukluk » March 28th, 2017, 11:09 am

Thanks all, especially Lurch for such a thorough response!

squidvicious
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Re: what to expect from SAR

Post by squidvicious » March 28th, 2017, 2:55 pm

I can't remember if this was something I read here or what, but I seem to remember someone saying that if you get lost and provide 911 your GPS coordinates, SAR will probably largely ignore that info as not trustworthy/useful. Does anything about that sound right, or am I just making that up?

Webfoot
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Re: what to expect from SAR

Post by Webfoot » March 28th, 2017, 3:36 pm

Lurch wrote:Our common mission types have changed dramatically over the last decade.
Interesting statement. Could you be more specific?

Lurch
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Re: what to expect from SAR

Post by Lurch » March 28th, 2017, 4:50 pm

Webfoot wrote:
Lurch wrote:Our common mission types have changed dramatically over the last decade.
Interesting statement. Could you be more specific?
This is 100% my personal conjecture. Part of the comment above comes from an adaption/evolution of SAR practices, and part comes from subject behavior. With a rise in technology, (smart phones, GPS, etc) and the availability of moderately priced moderate quality equipment (rain gear, flashlights, etc) people have adapted how they recreate in the wilderness.

The average hunter, or mushroom picker for instance, is far more likely to pack a GPS or smart phone and be able to tag their vehicle/camp and return to it, moving their common mission from a 'misplaced hunter' who would have certain behavioral traits, to most likely injured, which would have others, and we would respond by adapting our search practices accordingly. These used to be common, and turn into long missions of gridding through wilderness. Over the past few years these have dwindled in frequency.

'Common' hikers push dramatically further into the wilderness, or on more and more challenging routes. I have no doubts that social media, and this site specifically have resulted in dozens of lost people, and probably hundreds who were temporarily lost but self rescued before SAR was initiated. I've personally seen pictures of Munra, Oneonta, and Tunnel falls, all being touted as 'must see spots in Oregon!,' each dangerous and challenging in their own way, and driving thousands of people into wilderness that has never been hit this hard. Historically, before the advent of digital cameras, and internet, those gems were largely shared by experienced hikers, to other experienced hikers, passing down the knowledge and experiences as they developed their skill levels. Now people read a blog post, of someone 8 steps removed, with no fundamental understanding of the challenges, or risks involved in reaching those destinations, and some people, attempt to reach them without doing the foundational work that was common in the past.

Hasty searches are still common, they always will be, people are simply lost, or turned around in the maze of trails. More often than not lately, it's a result of confusing user-made trails sprinkled throughout the gorge, with the Foxgloves, the resurrection of Primrose, the clearing of Bridal Veil Plateau (aka "The lost world"), ROA, and multiple others that I'd rather not drive additional interest towards, that confuses people. In the rare happenstance they actually bring a map, those trails aren't on them, nor will they ever be in any meaningful way. When they have written instructions with them, they're commonly turn by turn directions that don't match reality. Signs change, are replaced, moved, or additional ones put up that are confusing for us and nearly impossible to keep up on. Most people, without wilderness navigation experience, tend to navigate as they drive. ie: take the second left, then turn right, stay straight, etc... That's great if you're in a city park, and ALL the trail junctions are accounted for, it's terrible when you're in the wilderness, and users start cutting their own, or inexperienced hikers mistake a deer path, or seasonal creek wash for a trail.

Subjects get restless, and decide to move, attempting to self rescue. Usually these are people who have had family call, because they don't know that anyone is looking for them, but not always, sometimes they just get tired of waiting. Mission response and complexity unfolds at a seemingly exponential rate when they're not where they should be. We've had people exit the field knowing there was an active search for them, get in their vehicle and drive away without notifying anyone. We've had people actively evade SAR teams, or try and walk past them without acknowledging who they are. If we are tapped at night, it's a general assumption that a subject will start moving at day-break, regardless of whether they know there's a mission searching for them, and we do our best to take advantage of the darkness and make up ground. As a result of all that though, we have to establish larger containment. We have adapted by attempting to shorten our response time even more, but that puts extremely high demands on unpaid volunteers. Most of the time those quick responses have minimal personnel, and can resolve the mission quickly. When they cannot (as mentioned above) we're a little behind the curve, and the SAR theory that was bypassed for speed and efficiency, has to get covered as quickly as possible to get back on track. We have custom maps, attempting to catalog and track as much information as possible so that hopefully we can pinpoint a location just by talking to them. And our communications technology has simultaneously dramatically improved, and been handicapped.

I could ramble on this topic forever. I believe I have rambled on here, multiple times, so I'll leave it there and hopefully we can continue a discussion, not just me ranting :lol:

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