Search and rescue

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(PD) Photo: Hegs / wikipedia
A Canadian Coast Guard Search and Rescue lifeboat.

Search and rescue (SAR) involves a wide range of organizations, means of transportation, trained personnel, and specialized equipment to locate people and animals in distress, and remove them from the hazardous situation. Rescue personnel usually can begin providing at least basic emergency medical service, and may be able to deliver advanced life support on the way to treatment facilities. The first dedicated life-saving vessels were the product of local initiatives, in the mid eighteenth century.[1]

Combat search and rescue is a subset of SAR, in which the people in distressare in hostile territory, and military forces may actively try to prevent the rescue. Military pararescue units are trained and equipped for such situations, as well as for a wide range of nonhostile emergency situations.

Complex SAR incidents often require activation of incident command system. multiple casualty or mass casualty incidents may require field triage.

Land SAR

SAR in wilderness areas, especially in mountains or in extreme weather, can be dominated by the logistics of finding the victim and getting SAR to him. Personal locator beacons are immensely valuable in remote areas.

Special techniques, however, are also needed in built-up areas. High-angle search and rescue involves removing the victims from extremely high (e.g., rooftops, construction cranes or extremely deep (e.g., mines, avalanches) locations. Building rescue is often a responsibility of fire departments, although mine rescue often uses special teams.

Urban search-and-rescue (US&R) involves finding and removing victims from confined spaces, often due to building structural collapse. It may be necessary to provide medical stabilization before full extrication, which, in some extreme conditions, has required field amputation of a limb that cannot be freed from wreckage. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency supports several US&R teams, which are normally part of local emergency services, but, on demand, can be airlifted to disaster sites worldwide. Their methods of locating buried victims included trained dogs, specialized microphones, and a variety of other techniques.

Emergent extrication

Both in building collapse rescue, and extricating victims of vehicle accidents, if there is any possibility of spinal cord injury, the patient must be immobilized with a backboard, cervical collar, etc., before extrication. Some of the most difficult rescues involve situations where fire or explosion is imminent, and the hard decision is made that there is no time for stabilization. An extreme case, for example, required a victim of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing to have her leg amputated, without adequate anesthesia, so she could be extricated from unstable wreckage.

Water search and rescue involves a wide range of skills, from the techniques of safely approaching a panicked person in the water, to white-water river rescue, to finding those lost at sea. The latter need, spawned by the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic, led to the initial 1914 Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention. Today, SOLAS, as well as land search, is supported by the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS).

Water resce

GMDSS actually provides worldwide search using COSPAS-SARSAT distress signal detection satellites; emergency beacons for personal, water, and aircraft use, the newer versions of which (e.g., EPIRB) transmit position determined from Global Navigation Satellite Systems; radar location aids such as a search and rescue transponder; and specialized communications such as the maritime Digital Selective Calling and Automatic Identification System (AIS).

Avoiding the need for SAR

AIS, and the aviation Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System, also have collision avoidance features to avoid the need for SAR.


  1. Clayton Evans (2004). Rescue at Sea. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1591147131. Retrieved on 2009-02-20.