lilcurious wrote in little_details

SAR: how a small incident response works

I have a character who is going to join a SAR (Search and Rescue) group in Southern British Columbia as a ground searcher. 

I've looked at the description of every SAR group as they're listed online ( and I've read through the description of every SAR course I could get my hands in to know what SAR members are expected to be able to do.

I know the different types of teams (avalanche rescue, swift water, rope, tracking, etc) and the material they need. I know how SAR dog training works, the main commands and some myths vs reality. I've read media accounts of a number of rescues. I'm aware of the dangers — in terms of injuries and death — and of difficulties (as presented in the media), including failures in planning or security measures (it's hard to say a SAR member got hurt because of bad decisions, but as heroic as these people are, they're human, and humans are known to make mistakes every now and then).

My google technique rests on the string 'SAR group name' (limited to the southern BC area) and then reading all the pages that come up — from coroner enquiries (yes, there are a couple online) to news and course offers.

My most recent find was the selected pre-read material from SAR Management Level 1 Participant Manual. While it gave me some very interesting and important information (the least of which were examples of actual forms and briefing examples), it also forced me to concede defeat: I cannot for the life of me understand how a small incident response happens. The link above does not give the basics that I — a complete ignorant in the process — do not have and that any person doing those courses already have.

I intend to have a few callouts throughout the story. They'll be subplots and I won't go into too many details on how the operations proceed, as the POV character will be out in the field as a searcher, not managing the entire search. The incidents will always be minor, with the missing people being found in less than 24 hours. 

So, can anyone ellucidate me as to how a response happens in practical terms? What I've gathered so far:

1. the police / RCMP gets a call and make the decision of calling in the local SAR

2. An element of the police / RCMP and a SAR manager become the Incident Command. 

Is this always the same person on both sides? Can anyone within the police / RCMP be the SAR commander? I know that any SAR manager Level 1 can take up the task.

3. In a group of +/- 20 people, how many SAR managers level 1 and 2 are likely to be available? 

Are there ever 'jurisdiction problems' or do these managers get shifts during which time they'll become the incident SAR manager? I know that all members are supposed to inform of whether they'll be available to callouts or not (I suppose this happens on their weekly meetings).

4. Is the manager the one who initiates the callout or is the action delegated on a specific person?

How fixed are the functions of each person? Is it a matter of whoever is around gets the job (for as long as they have the necessary training) or are there people who always do the same thing response after response? By the way, when a group is comprised solely of volunteers, is the SAR HQ constantly manned or are there times when no one is around and must be contacted by phone?

5. I've read an account by a SAR member that mentioned that the first team to get to the incident site would immediately start the search, but this made reference to his experience in the 80s. Nowadays, when members get a callout (which I understand already carries the basic info possessed), do they go directly to the site or to the SAR? If they arrive before the SAR truck and the operation command is not yet set, do they wait for the SAR manager to further debrief them, or do they set out immediately?

The Level 1 Manager information I read has some very detailed briefing forms. Would this info been transmitted to the Team Leader by phone so they could carry on without delays, or would the Team Leader have to meet in person with the SAR manager?

6. The link for the manager Level 1 course gives a very neat diagram for the hyerarchy of a small scale response. The SAR Commander & SAR Manager work directly with the Operation Section Chief, which then works with the Communication Operator, the Ground Teams and the Rescue Teams (each comprised of a Team Leader + 1 to ? members). Does it mean that there must always be at least 4 people on site with the truck? 

7. Practical Question:

Let's say a child gets lost. The parents call in the Mounties, who in turn call in SAR. The SAR members mobilise and flock to the site where they start the search.

If someone gets a callout, can they ignore it (let's say they're a doctor in the middle of a physical examination) or must they warn they'll join later (or not at all)?

If a member is very close to the site and arrives early, would they sit around or would they initiate the search? I'm assuming they were given all the available info about the lost child by phone. If they cannot go alone, would they wait for one more member to arrive and then carry on the two?

Thanks in advance.

Canada, Search and Rescue


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