Every time a hiker is lost in the woods, the local news stations will no doubt show images of helicopters buzzing overhead, German Shepherds sniffing the forest floor and scores of people combing the woods in search of clues. This brief bit of insight into the world of search and rescue (SAR) teams is about all the general public ever sees. In reality, SAR goes way beyond these glimpses on the news — it’s an extensive emergency service performed by highly trained military specialists, local law enforcement and civilian volunteers.
The goal of SAR is to locate, stabilize and extract individuals in distress. That can mean a hiker on the side of a mountain, a sailor lost at sea, a trapped urban disaster survivor, a captured soldier or an Alzheimer’s patient wandering city streets. Each area of SAR employs techniques specific to the circumstance. Air and sea rescue requires skilled ocean swimmers and helicopter pilots. Combat rescue uses the military’s most accomplished Special Forces teams. Urban SAR requires hazardous material experts and structural specialists.