Mountainpathfinder>> Georgia SAR>> Frequently Asked Questions about...Search and Rescue in Georgia

Q: "What exactly are you referring to in discussing 'search and rescue' in Georgia?"

A: "Search and rescue," for this website, refers to the efforts to locate, access, stabilize, and transport lost or missing persons to a place of safety. This can happen in wilderness, rural, or urban areas. Mountainpathfinder.com primarily deals with the search and rescue of lost or missing persons in circumstances other than disasters. This website doesn't focus much on collapsed-structure rescue, or rescue done in and around buildings and other man-made structures that are damaged in natural- or man-made disasters. Collapsed-structure rescue is such an involved topic that readers are better served by researching other websites.

Q: "What is 'wilderness SAR'? Isn't there very little 'wilderness' in Georgia?"

A: "Wilderness" SAR is interpreted differently by different organizations, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It is specifically understood to happen in areas in which there are very few buildings and little or no agriculture outside of timber harvesting. However, most teams that are generally deemed to be "wilderness" teams will actually respond to incidents in wilderness, rural, suburban, and even urban areas.

Q: "What is the difference between 'urban' SAR and 'collapsed-structure' SAR?

A: The phrase, "urban SAR," usually refers to to efforts to find lost or missing persons in and around collapsed man-made structures in densely-populated areas. Mountainpathfinder.com often refers to "urban search," which in the SAR community is understood to be the efforts to locate lost or missing persons in cities or suburbs outside of disaster circumstances.

Q: "I went to a search I saw on the news but the officials in charge would not let me help. Why not?"

A: A lot of things keep good-intentioned but ill-prepared people out of searches. Some typical bars include -

  • Search managers really need trained "clue finders". A good "clue finder" is someone who is aware of the need to look for and preserve any indication of the subject's passing. Many people have little experience in watching for often-subtle clues such as tracks, broken vegetation, small pieces of litter, etc. Not only might an inexperienced searcher miss those clues, but such a searcher might unintentionally and unknowingly destroy clues that could have been the crux of a successful search
  • "Self deployment." Many search managers find themselves awash in un-trained and un-equipped volunteers. Just getting these volunteers in some sort of a coherent organization is a nightmare unto itself. Sometimes it's such a challenge that it's easier to turn away anyone other than those resources that were specifically requested by the authorities in charge. It's also very tough to screen out the volunteers that have less-than- noble reasons for being involved. Almost any major incident draws out the "thrill seekers" and the "media hounds." If you're there for any reason other than finding the missing subject, then pursuing those reasons will interfere with the search.
  • All searches are potential "crime scenes" - preservation of evidence. We usually don't know the actual "why" that a subject disappeared until we find the subject. Most searches have happy endings, but some end with the discovery of a dead subject. Unattended deaths, as a general legal matter, are subject to a legal determination of a cause of death. That means that the death of every subject must be investigated by the authorities to determine the cause of death as well as whether the death was a result of a crime. So, searchers must be "clue aware," focused on clue preservation, and prepared to testify as to what they have observed. Finally, all records (including photographs surreptitiously taken with cell phone cameras) are part of the legal investigation. The investigation is corrupted when by-standers take photographs that aren't surrendered to authorities
  • All searches are potential "crime scenes" - screening-out perpetrators and questionable individuals. The reason that the subject is missing may be because the subject was abducted. And in Georgia, an abductor has insinuated himself into the actual search operation for the two girls that he took. It has happened before. Search management and law enforcement need to keep the perpetrators out of the search. We don't want the perpetrator keeping tabs on the investigation so he or she can stay ahead of the law. And we want to prevent a perpetrator from destroying evidence. Some would-be volunteers may mean well but have criminal backgrounds. Evidence that these volunteers may find may be inadmissible in a prosecution if defense attorneys raise the issue that a criminal handled it. We also have to reckon with individuals who try to involve themselves in a search in order to satisfy their prurient interests, to see themselves in the media, to collect "souvenirs" from the clues that are found, or to even try to snatch a lost and unattended child-subject.
  • Privacy. As searchers we often learn far more about our subject that our subject or the subject's family would ever voluntarily reveal under normal circumstances. The subject and the subject's family are still entitled to a degree of privacy even during a search. A level of confidentiality must still be observed. Often it is safer to limit search participation to those individuals whom we know would appreciate and maintain that confidentiality rather than including would-be searchers that we don't know or that might betray those confidences
  • Hazardous terrain/weather. Searches typically happen in the most difficult places and at the most difficult times. That means that searchers must be trained and experienced enough to simultaneously focus on clue-finding and stay safe in darkness, in bad weather, or around cliffs, pits, or swift water. Most un-trained and in-experienced people aren't aware enough to successfully search while staying safe
  • Equipment. Got a flashlight? Suitable clothes? A map and compass? A pencil and paper for notes? Toilet paper? Hey, we all have to go to the bathroom sometime! Seriously, a good searcher has to have at least a minimum amount of equipment to stay "functionally comfortable." "Functional comfort" means that you have just the right combination and amount of equipment that permits you to successfully search without either fretting over the lack of something or bemoaning the weight of everything that you're carrying.

Q: "How do I get started?"

A: First, where do your interests lie? Are you only interested in lost-person search in your city or suburb? Or do you want to pursue SAR in backcountry, rural and suburban/urban areas?

Once you've resolved that, then your job is to find what it will take to prepare you in the areas of:

  • Skills/knowledge - search skills, survival/safety skills, radio/communication skills, emergency medical skills, etc. plus training in topics such as crime scene preservation, the Incident Command System (ICS), and safety around bloodborne pathogens;
  • Equipment - ready pack and contents, radio, clothing/footwear, etc.;
  • Credentials - government or SAR-community recognition of skills/abilities, such as the NASAR SARTECH certification, Virginia Department of Emergency Services SAR field team member certification; mantracking certification through the Joel Hardin Tracking School, etc.;
  • Affiliation - membership in a recognized organization that is dedicated to SAR or that does SAR as one of its responsibilities;
    And if you're a field searcher,
  • -Physical fitness/conditioning - keeping the necessary level of physical strength, agility, flexibility, and endurance for SAR field work.

Q: "How do I find out about SAR teams in Georgia?"

A: Start with your own community. Inquire with your county's emergency manager. Many county emergency management agencies (EMAs) maintain a volunteer SAR team. Many EMAs also have Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), or county or neighborhood organizations that prepare for local emergencies. Some of these do SAR. County fire departments and sheriff's departments often have volunteer firefighters or "sheriff's posses" that do SAR as part of their community work. Even if none of these have teams dedicated to SAR, they may still be able to direct you to reputable and local private teams.

There are also some state-wide volunteer organizations that participate in SAR. The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) is the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. CAP performs about 70 percent of the searches for missing U.S. aircraft. They search from airplanes and on the ground. CAP also participates in lost-person searches in Georgia at the request of local, state, or federal officials. Members are civilian volunteers who wear US Air Force uniforms in the execution of their duties. CAP has squadrons throughout Georgia. The Georgia State Defense Force is a uniformed, civilian arm of the Georgia Department of Defense. Its primary mission is to support the Georgia Army National Guard inside the state. SDF does a great deal of peacetime community work including SAR.

Other sources for team references include the National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR). You might also use Internet search engines such as Google to find teams.

Q: "What training and certifications are required by law for me to become involved in SAR in Georgia?"

A: There are no hard-and-fast, state-wide requirements. The absolute minimum required by most public and private organizations are:

  • GEMA "Rescue Specialist" - an one-weekend, Cold War-holdover class that gives very rudimentary coverage of lost person search
  • GEMA "Awareness for Initial Response to Hazardous Materials Incidents" - an eight-hour class on identifying hazardous materials and knowing what to do when encountering them. This is pertinent since many SAR situations may touch on hazardous materials
  • GEMA "Infection Control: A Street-Sense Approach" - a six-hour class to make all emergency responders aware of infectious disease transmission in emergency situations, and the methods for responding to emergencies while preventing the spread of disease.

Q: "Where do I get the training to be a SAR volunteer in Georgia?"

A: GEMA courses - GEMA teaches the courses at local emergency management agencies. Contact your county's EMA director or check GEMA's schedule of "field delivered courses" for dates and times near you.

Wilderness search skills/survival skills (general) - NASAR courses represent some of the best combinations of wilderness SAR- and personal survival/safety skills. Once you've been introduced to SAR and personal safety skills, local teams conduct their own training to improve upon that training base.

Land navigation/GPS - An excellent starting point is your local REI store. REI stores offer some excellent and free training in the use of maps and compasses as well as Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers. That's especially important for the ins-and-outs of using your GPS. I know very few people who ever become fully proficient with a GPS by only reading the user's manual. Take a class in which you learn that unit from stem to stern. Another source is the Georgia Orienteering Club. Orienteering is a sport involving map and compass skills. It's geared to all ages and levels of athletic ability. It's also a great way to learn some rudimentary navigation skills from really proficient navigators. The "white" courses are the best starting point for anyone learning the basics of terrain association and point-to-point navigation. You might also contact the instructors at your local college's military ROTC or high school's junior ROTC program. These programs include land navigation in their training.

NIMS Incident Command System - FEMA's Independent Study Program (ISP) website is your first stop in satisfying your ICS training requirements. FEMA IS offers free, simple, and quick online courses that you'll need to function at an incident. I especially encourage anyone taking the NASAR courses or the SARTECH evaluations to complete all of these IS classes:

Emergency Medicine - At an absolute minimum you should seek a course that is at least an equivalent to the 6.5-hour "Standard First Aid with CPR for Adults" course from the American Red Cross (ARC). A team standard ought to be a course that meets the 1995 U.S. Department of Transportation First Responder training requirements. These classes are often described as "First Responder" course or the ARC "Emergency Response" course. Thanks to Georgia's HOPE grant, volunteers with the spare time can think about the Emergency Medical Technician-B (EMT-B) training program at little cost at many local technical colleges.

The shortcoming in all of these training programs is that they assume that you and the subject are within an hour of a primary medical care facility. That's just not the case in many search incidents. It may take an hour or more to carry the subject out to a trailhead so he or she can then take an ambulance ride of a hour to the hospital. Searchers who want to prepare for this ought to take one of the many "wilderness"-type emergency medical classes. "Wilderness medical" classes get you ready for "extended" or "remote" care situations that may last hours or might require you to improvise your medical supplies. Classes such as these are taught in Georgia by:

Communications/Amateur "ham" radio use - The best "one-stop shopping" for this is the Georgia Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) website. There's complete information on rules, classes, and testing throughout Georgia. Ham radios are a big part of the volunteer SAR communications network. And the modern, hand-held, two-meter units make their operation very easy by permitting pre-programming of frequently used frequencies. That being said, very few volunteers become truly proficient at manual programming of frequencies on-the-fly. That happens a lot when going outside your usual response area.

Q: "How much does it cost to volunteer for SAR in Georgia?"

A: A lot, depending upon your financial means and your goals in SAR. If your interests lie in lost-person search exclusively in urban or suburban areas, then your training may be at no cost and your expenses may be less than one hundred dollars. Expenses for anyone interested in being fully prepared for wilderness search may invest over $1,000 in the process. For wilderness searchers the expenses break out into at least three cost categories:

  • Equipment - It may cost $500 or more to fully fit yourself with an appropriate pack, clothing, boots, GPS receiver, amateur ("ham") radio, and other gear if you don't already have suitable backcountry gear and clothing
  • Training/certifications - Quality instruction may run an additional $400 if you pay tuition + travel costs to a basic wilderness SAR course or a wilderness first aid course. Certification fees for the SARTECH skill/knowledge evaluations will be at least $70. The FCC amateur ("ham") license test costs $15
  • Recurrent expenses - Recurrent costs include transportation and other expenses at searches and training, and replacement of "consumables" such as batteries and snacks in your "ready pack. These may run $100 - 200.

Q: "Can I volunteer for SAR even if I'm not in suitable physical condition to search in the field?"

A: Yes. Many organizations can use motivated individuals to help with base camp support. Base camp support includes traffic control, handling radio communications, and driving searchers to/from the command post to search assignments

Q: "What are some SAR specialties available in Georgia?"

A: Quite a few. They include:

  • Searcher/SAR operator - the skilled "jack of all trades" who hits the woods or the streets to find lost persons;
  • Canine support person - the skilled searcher/SAR operator who trains to work as a team with a search dog and handler
  • Search dog handler - the skilled searcher who trains his/her SAR dog to find missing persons or clues to the subject's whereabouts. Such clues can include articles that the subject left behind as well as small pieces of human tissue
  • Tracker - a skilled searcher who develops his or her skills in detecting and tracks and other human "sign," or indication of a subject's passage through an area
  • Cave SAR searcher - a "caver," or cave explorer, that adds cave SAR skills to their existing repertoire of caving skills
  • Search planner
  • - a searcher who develops his or her knowledge and skills in search planning, lost person behavior, and incident command to assist the incident commander or responsible agency in directing a search operation.
  • High-angle SAR operator - a searcher who augments his or her searching skills by training and practicing rope rescue skills to allow rescuers to search in cliffs, pits, or other "vertical environments," and to remove subjects (who are often already injured) from those environments.

Q: "Is there an email list or bulletin board for SAR operators in Georgia?"

A: There are several -

Subscription to all of these is through the same process as GASAR.

Q: "Are there paid, full-time jobs in search and rescue in Georgia?"

A: The only paid, full-time jobs in SAR in Georgia that I am aware of are the the US Air Force pararescuemen posted to Moody Air Force Base near Valdosta, Georgia. What they do is technically combat SAR; however, they may assist civilian officials with local SAR. There may be some US Coast Guard rescue swimmers posted on the Georgia coast. Otherwise, there are no paid, full-time jobs in SAR in Georgia. Everyone that I know that is involved is either a volunteer or someone who does it as a collateral duty to their paid job in another field.

Q: "Are there any Georgia state-wide SAR organizations?"

A: There aren't operational ones any that accepts novice volunteers aside from CAP and SDF. The Georgia Body Recovery Team seems to be composed of experienced volunteers from other public or private teams. There are several public or private teams that may respond around the state. However, all of them focus primarily on one section of the state (private teams) or are limited to certain areas (the Georgia Department of Natural Resources SAR Team responds only to incidents on state-owned or managed properties unless requested by state officials.

The Georgia Trackers Alliance is a statewide tracking organization with mission-ready trackers, but it is more of a training association

Q: "Will you speak to my organization/agency about search and rescue in Georgia?"

A: Yes, if my time and funds permit. Email me with what you have in mind.

Q: "Is there a required physical fitness/conditioning test for search and rescue volunteers in Georgia?"

A: No. Individual teams have implemented their own physical conditioning test. The most common one is the US Forest Service "work capacity test (WCT) ." It's referred to as the "pack test." A team may demand that its members meet either the "arduous" or the "moderate" requirements of the WCT. The "arduous" requirement expects you to hike three miles in 45 minutes while wearing a 45-lb pack. The "moderate" requirement expects you to hike two miles in 30 minutes with a 25-lb pack. The hike is over a flat track or distance. No jogging is allowed.

Q: "Where do I get wilderness SAR training in Georgia?"

A: The National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR) is probably the single best-represented wilderness SAR trainer in the state of Georgia. The state government offers no meaningful wilderness SAR training.

Q: "Where do I get high angle or rope rescue training?"

A: Try your local SAR team first. Some local fire departments or emergency management agencies have rope rescue teams that regularly train for high-angle rescue work. The Georgia Fire Academy offers a series of rope rescue classes; however, you must already be a member of a Georgia public safety agency to take these classes at no charge. Tom Vines, at OnRope1, offers top-notch rope rescue training that meets industry standards.

Q: "Where do I get cave rescue training?"

A: The place to find cave rescue training is the National Cave Rescue Commission (NCRC) of the National Speleological Society (NSS). First, become a good caver. You're going to be challenged to be a good cave rescuer until you're "functionally comfortable" in the cave environment. Then, tap into your local NSS grotto to get involved with any local cave rescue specialists. Take those NSS and NCRC classes.

Q: "Where do I get tracking training?"

A: Probably the best school of tracking training is the Joel Hardin Professional Tracking Service. While there are many individuals or organizations offering tracking training, Joel's is the only one that I will recommend. JHPTS offers both a series of training courses as well as a certification program. At the same time, get in touch with the Georgia Trackers Alliance (GTA) to get involved in its monthly workshops. Tracking is an intensive, dirty endeavor that takes a great deal of time before you're proficient. That being said, it's incredibly fun!

Thanks to Allen Padgett, of Search and Rescue Dogs of Georgia (SARDOG), for his contributions to this FAQ.

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SAR Links
Alabama Association of Rescue Squads
Alpha Team K9 Search and Rescue
Central Alabama Search Dog Association
Central Georgia K-9 Search and Rescue
dbS Productions
Dogs South K9 Search & Rescue
Emergency Response International (ERI)
Georgia Department of Natural Resources Search and Rescue Team
Georgia Piedmont Region K9 Search and Rescue
Georgia Trackers Alliance
National Association for Search and Rescue
National Cave Rescue Commission
National Search Dog Alliance
North Carolina Search And Rescue Advisory Council
Search and Rescue Dogs of Georgia (SARDOG)
South Carolina Search and Rescue Dog Association
South Georgia Search Dogs
Tennessee Association of Rescue Squads
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Updated Sunday, January 10, 2010, 02:54 PM
Copyright 2000-2009 Jim Greenway