Lost and Found... the newsletter of Volume 3, Issue 11
12 November 1998
Editors: Tom Russo, Mike Dugger,
and Susan Corban

Cibola Search and Rescue
"That Others May Live..."
Top of the Hill Boots and Blisters Coming Attractions
Mini Lesson On the Right Track Public Relations
NMESC Notes Feature Article Web News
Disclaimer
Recent Missions
Calendar
Callout Information
Back to Top
Top of the Hill by Larry Mervine
This month I would like to discuss the need for team recruitment. The PR committee is focusing on and has made great progress in team recruitment. Committee members have placed team posters, spoken at meetings and sat at information booths. There are two reasons why we need to continualy recruit new members. First, the average team member is active for about three years. Active is defined as attending three or more meetings, two or more trainings, and one or more missions every six months, in addition to meeting the certification requirements every year. If we do nothing, the team will eventually disappear. We now have PACE and Cibola Standards. New members can be trained with the basics (land nav, litter, search techniques) in a short period of time.

The other reason is more of a goal than a reason. We purchased litter gear when the team had 48 members and was fielding nine to twelve members on each mission. The last six months we averaged only six members per mission. That is, an average of 23% of the 26 members attend each mission. A goal of mine is to see the team increase mission attentence to 30 - 35% for 48 members, mostly for selfish reasons: on the last couple of litter evacs I attended the litter was not balanced and people on the litter were not working as a team. Since we train three to four times a year on the litter, the work for an old fart like me would be less.

The PR committee has found a few misconceptions people have about joining a search and rescue team: that one must be medically trained; that each member is on call for a set period of time; that everyone must respond; that they cannot join if they have no prior training; and that they cannot join if they do not have all the gear. I encourage everyone to be active in promoting new membership.

See you out there. Back to Top
Boots and Blisters by Larry Mervine
Let's back up two months and review September's Training. The Search Techniques training started with a description of our subjects, two unprepared hikers named Johnny and Darla (names given by the creative instructor). Johnny and Darla slept in late one Saturday morning. While eating breakfast at 11:00 a.m they agreed it was a beautiful day and thought a hike in the mountains would be a good Saturday activity. Without any preplanning, the couple left home without extra water, food, clothing or proper footwear. Nor did they think to tell anyone where they were going or for how long. On the way to the mountains they stopped at a convenience store. The couple reached the trail head about 2:30 p.m. Not realizing that it was very late in the day for the trail they decided to hike, our couple started hiking down the trail.

Johnny, being more physically fit, decided Darla was walking too slowly. He sped up until, in no time, they were now separated. Darla sprained an ankle and moved off the trail to find a rock to sit on. Johnny, now missing his Darla, turned and started back down the trail. By this time it was dark and Johnny's attempts to find Darla are actually taking him away from Darla. Luckily a passing hiker told Johnny he would call for help.

This may or may not sound like searches we have been on, but it gives us some idea what clues to look for in our training search area.

The instructor also briefly described how we get calls for a search. When a reporting party calls for help a State Police officer is dispatched to the site to gather information. If a search is warranted, a Field Coordinator (FC) is called. The FC is now called Incident Commander (IC). The IC requests for team resources. We are paged to respond. The IC is already gathering information about the subjects.

As teams show up, they are given assignments to search an area. There are three types of searches: point, line and area (grid). A point search is sending teams to points like lakes, campgrounds, mines and other places a person might be. This type of search might have been done by law enforcement or family members. The next technique is line. Line is sending teams on a trail, down a draw or along a stream. Teams preforming line searches are called "hasty teams." Hasty teams are able to respond within an hour of being called. Also, hasty teams on the trail travel fast, must be clue aware, and use sound attraction (calling name or whistle). They may use blowing a vehicle horn or visual attraction, turning on flashing lights. If these two techniques have not been successful, then the area search type is used. Area or grid searching is used last because of the manpower needed and the destructiveness to clues. Teams are assigned an area. The area is searched by using critical or visual separation. Visual separation is keeping other team members in site as well as the area between them. Critical separation is when two team members are able to see the area between them, but not necessarily the other team member. Cibola prefers to use visual separation. The goal of an area search is 50% POD (probability of detection). If ten items were in the area, how many would you have found? Fifty percent means you would have found five of the ten items.

After the lecture, members were divided into two teams. Teams decided on a search pattern for the area, assigned a person to trail tape their direction of travel and used visual separation. Boths teams achieved greater than 80% POD. Thanks to those who attended.


Hike of the MonthManzano Loop: Trail Canyon Trail to Bosque Trail0830, Nov 29, 1998
Trailhead: Trail Canyon Trail (176)
R.T. Distance: 7.2 milesElevation Min/Max: 7440/9400
Hiking Time 4 hoursHazards:
Topo Maps: Capilla Peak & Bosque Peak Quadrangles
Meet to carpool at the fire station on South 14 (about 10 miles south of the 4-way stop at Tijeras) at 7:45 a.m. or meet at trailhead at 8:30 a.m.

From I-40 take exit 175 (Cedar Crest/Tijeras). From the 4-way stop at Tijeras drive south on 337 (south 14) until you reach NM 55. Turn right to Tajique. At Tajique take Forest Road 55 (gravel road) for 11 miles to the trailhead. You will pass Fourth of July Campground and the Bosque trailhead enroute. Or, from Belen, take NM 47 and US 60 to Mountainair. From Mountainair take NM 55 to Torreon. From Torreon take FR 55 to the trailhead.

Note: If there's snow we'll go on snowshoes in the vicinity, depending on road & trail conditions. Call Susan at home if in doubt about location due to weather.

Trail Canyon Trail #176 begins at a stream in a lush valley complete with waterfalls. It follows Canyon de la Vereda two miles up to a narrow saddle where it meets the Manzano Crest Trail and the Comanche Trail which rises from the west side of the mountain. Go north on the crest trail for 3 miles. This section of the crest trail scrambles up a rocky ridge then levels off. Several sections are over areas where the trail disappears because there is solid rock under foot and no trees. Cairns are visible in some places. As the trail approaches Bosque Peak it enters private land. The remains of an old homestead are visible just past the junction with the Bosque Trail, including headstones, cast-iron stove parts and the remains of cabins. Also, part of the fuselage and wing of a plane wreck are hidden in an aspen forest at the top of the ridge. If I can locate these I want to take a GPS reading for future reference. Cow trails can be confused with the "real" trail here. At the junction of the Crest and Bosque Trails go right (east) in a few yards take the fork to the left. This trail drops into the canyon immediately. In a small meadow you will see an arrow made of stones pointing across the meadow. Follow this and the trail becomes evident again at the far side of the meadow. Continue down the Bosque Trail for 2.2 miles to parking area. In the top third of the trail along an exposed ridge is a small side trail that leads uphill to a 40-foot long cave. Beware the nesting rodents in the cave wall. Expect to walk south on the road two miles or leave a vehicle at both trailheads.
Back to Top
Mini Lesson by Mike Dugger

Hypothermia

This information has been compiled from several sources, and the summary below represents a non-professional's interpretation of what he has learned. In particular, I made use of a document compiled and presented by Reed Burnett, one of our former members who is a physician's assistant, during a winter bivy on Mount Taylor. The Search and Rescue Society of British Columbia has one of the best compilations on the subject I have ever seen at http://www.sarbc.org/hypo.html. Hey, I'm no doctor. As always, the reader should consult a professional for an expert opinion.

Introduction

We require a body core temperature of 96 to 101 degrees F to sustain life. Maintaining body temperature in this narrow range is a balance between heat production and heat loss. Our ability to survive in cold temperatures is due to behavior, not biology. We've used everything from animal skins to wool to fancy, high-tech waterproof and breathable fabrics to keep warm. The body's thermostat is sensitive to less than 1 degree F change in core temperature, and the body responds to this cooling in a variety of ways, depending upon the temperature and rate of cooling. Hypothermia is defined as a body core temperature less than 95 degrees F. Hypothermia can most definitely be fatal if untreated.

Heat Production

We generate heat by burning fuel. For our bodies, this means metabolizing food. In order to generate this heat by metabolism, we need food for fuel, air for oxygen, and water for the chemical processes of digestion. Here are some interesting numbers on the effect of activity the body's rate of energy consumption. Just sitting around, we burn an average of 100 calories per hour. While shivering, we may burn 500 cal/hour, and hiking uphill with a 40 pound pack burns about 1000 cal/hour! All these calories can come from metabolizing food, or burning stored energy in the form of fat.

Even if we have plenty of food and water available, there are limits to how much heat our bodies can produce. Our ability to generate heat by physical processes is limited by our level of fitness. Fit people can supply oxygen to the bloodstream much more efficiently than unfit people, and oxygen is critical for our bodies to metabolize food. Availability of oxygen can also be affected by altitude. Oxygen depletion in the blood and tissues (hypoxia) will also limit heat production. Depletion of glycogen, a starchy substance converted easily to sugar by the body, can reduce the body's ability to generate heat through shivering and aerobic exercise.

Heat Loss Factors

There are several basic methods by which energy may be transmitted from one body to another. All of these apply to the human body to some degree, but some more than others.

Conduction is the flow of energy (or heat) from a warm surface to a cold surface by direct contact. Hold a metal rod at one end and put the other end in cold water, and the end you're holding eventually gets cold. This occurs by conduction of heat down the rod away from your hand. The same thing happens when you hold a glass of iced tea, or sit on a cold rock.

Convection occurs when heat is transferred by a moving fluid, such as air flowing over your skin or clothing. This is why there is such a thing as "wind chill." Water can also be the heat transfer medium, and heat can be carried away much faster by cold water flowing over the body than by air. The faster the fluid is moving, the faster the heat loss will be. The rate of heat loss also depends upon the surface area exposed to the fluid. In this case, the surface is the skin, and the surface area of our skin is about 2 square meters. Convective heat loss can be reduced by wearing wind-proof garments and a hat.

Radiation is the method by which the sun heats the earth. In this case, energy is transmitted as electromagnetic waves, without any direct contact of the surfaces or exposure to any heat transfer fluid. Thermal energy is radiated primarily at infrared wavelengths. You can experience radiative heat transfer by holding your hand facing a bright light bulb. Without contacting the bulb, and even if there is a slight breeze blowing from your hand to the light, you can feel the heat on your hand. This is also why the side of a house sitting in the sun all day feels warm, even if you don't touch it. Again, clothing can help minimize heat losses by radiation.

Energy can also be transferred by a phase change in a material. For example, it takes energy to boil water on the stove. As long as the water is boiling, the temperature of the water does not change. We are simply using energy to change the phase of the water from liquid to gas. On the body, this method of heat transfer manifests itself as evaporation. It takes energy to evaporate water, just like it takes energy to boil water on the stove. The energy to evaporate sweat comes from our bodies. The rate of energy loss by evaporative cooling depends on the wind (carries moist air away), humidity (how much additional moisture the air can hold), and temperature. About 2/3 of energy lost by evaporation is from the skin, and 1/3 from the lung during respiration. Energy loss through the lungs by evaporation during breathing obviously increases as the respiratory rate increases.

Risk Factors

The risk of heat loss is increased by the use of drugs and alcohol, which affect circulation and blood flow. Impaired consciousness also increases risk, since the affected person may not feel cold or take precautions to prevent heat loss. Exhaustion also leads to increased heat loss because of decreased metabolism and cardiac output. Hunger obviously signals the lack of food to burn for energy, and anemia interferes with the metabolism and delivery of oxygen to burn fuel.

Infants and elderly people are most susceptible to hypothermia [1-3]. Infants have a larger body surface area to mass ratio than adults, allowing greater heat loss. Infants also cannot produce as much heat as adults through muscle activity. Metabolism decreases as we age, so elderly people have more difficulty maintaining body temperature through metabolism in cold climates.

Responses to Decreased Body Core Temperature

Arteries, veins and blood vessels in the extremities contract to keep warm blood in the core (trunk) and head, where the organs critical to sustaining life are located. The body does not waste energy heating the arms and legs. Metabolism increases as the body tries to burn fuel faster to generate heat. This also leads to dehydration due to increased water use. Shivering begins. The body attempts to generate heat by doing work. Rapid muscle contraction generates heat through friction.

As body temperature drops, brain function slows down. Higher functions like logic, reasoning, and the ability to solve problems are the first to go, and decline as the core temperature drops below 95 degrees F. Cerebral metabolism decreases by 3.5% for every 1 degree F drop in core temperature. This explains why hypothermic people may appear to be drunk or incoherent, not making sense. The EEG is flat (no brain activity) at 70 degrees F.

The heart rate initially increases as the core temperature drops, in an attempt to deliver more oxygenated blood to the tissues and fuel the increase in metabolism. Below 92 degrees F the heart rate decreases, and abnormal heart rhythms, or arrhythmia, may occur below 90 degrees F. Cardiac output decreases rapidly with decreasing core temperature, and is about 50% of normal at 77 degrees F. The body's ability to assimilate oxygen decreases due to reduced lung capacity by muscle constriction in the chest, resulting in decreased oxygen consumption.

What to Look for in the Stages of Hypothermia

In mild hypothermia, 95 to 92 degrees F, the subject will shiver in an attempt to generate heat. Muscle tone increases. When shivering ceases the body can no longer keep up with the rate of heat loss and core temperature falls rapidly. Moderate hypothermia, between about 92 and 86 degrees F, is signaled by the subject ceasing to shiver. The body is beginning to shut down. A MAJOR MEDICAL EMERGENCY IS IMMINENT!! The subject will exhibit lethargic behavior, characterized by apathy. The subject may also exhibit dysarthria (slurred, slow or effortful speech, perhaps accompanied by changes in pitch, loudness or rhythm due to paralysis or weakness of the muscles used in speech) or ataxia (inability to coordinate voluntary muscle movements). Arrhythmia and unconsciousness may follow.

In severe hypothermia, 86 to 82 degrees F, the subject will appear to be in a stupor, and may have fixed, dilated pupils and no reflexes. Respiratory arrest may follow.

Death occurs at a core temperature of about 70 degrees F, when brain activity stops. Be aware that even though a hypothermia victim may appear dead, full resuscitation and recovery is possible, although unusual [1]. Always act on the premise that "no one is dead until warm and dead" [4]. Now what about cold water drownings, you ask? Subjects exposed to very cold water cool off so fast that the brain's need for oxygen is dramatically reduced before damage occurs. With proper treatment, cold water drowning victims have been resuscitated after an hour in the water.

Differential Diagnosis

There are several medical and behavioral conditions that may have symptoms similar to those seen in the stages of hypothermia. A qualified medical professional should assess the subject to distinguish between these conditions and hypothermia. Some of these conditions are altitude illness, exhaustion, dehydration, fright, loss of will, carbon monoxide poisoning, and the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Treatment

If assessment of the subject indicates hypothermia, ABC's (airway, breathing, circulation) are still the first order of business. For a conscious subject, warm by any means and proceed with evacuation. An unconscious subject with a pulse should be transported to emergency care as rapidly as possible, again while attempting to warm by any means. If the subject has no pulse, CPR should obviously be started immediately while providing external heat.

To fight hypothermia, continued heat loss must be prevented, and steps taken to increase heat production by the subject. Heat loss can be prevented by interrupting the heat flow away from the subject by the pathways discussed above. To stop conduction, insulate the subject from the ground or other cold surfaces. Stop convective heat loss by providing shielding from the wind. Prevent radiative heat loss by making sure that all exposed areas of the body are covered with insulation. Finally, stop heat loss by evaporation by making sure the subject is dressed in dry clothing.

In mild hypothermia, the subject's own heat production rate can be boosted by increased physical activity and oxygen use. Provide the subject with water and food, to increase metabolism. Hot chocolate or other warm, sweetened liquids (no caffeine) can be offered to a conscious subject. At high altitude, administering oxygen can help the subject's body generate heat. If field evacuation is not imminent, external heat should also be provided. This may be as simple as building a fire or getting the subject into a heated (and properly ventilated) tent. Chemical heat packs or hot water bottles may be applied to armpits, groin, and neck to heat the body, but be careful. These can get hot enough to cause burns. Direct body to body contact with the subject is a very effective method of warming. Make sure to replace fluids in order to prevent dehydration.

Rewarming must be done carefully for subjects having moderate-to-severe hypothermia which developed over a prolonged period of time. For example, rewarming by application of external heat may be hazardous because it is likely to cause sudden dilation of blood vessels close to the skin (vascodilation), allowing cold, lactic acid-rich blood to return to the core. This cold blood flowing into the core will reduce the core temperature even further (convective afterdrop), and change the blood pH [5-7]. Cold blood returning to the heart may be enough to put the patient into ventricular fibrillation. To prevent vasodilation, it is important that the patient's core be rewarmed before the extremities. For the same reason, even a conscious patient having moderate hypothermia must be handled very gently and not be allowed to exercise, as muscular action can pump cold blood to the heart.

Equipment for proper core rewarming of a severely hypothermic subject may not be readily available in the field. In this case, the best course of action may be to insulate the subject to prevent further heat loss, and transport them as quickly as possible to facilities with proper equipment.

If CPR is necessary, it is important to be aware that it may be more difficult on a hypothermic subject. Decreased core temperature and muscle constriction may make the heart and thorax stiff. Blood flow may be poor due to vascoconstriction, and will exhibit increased resistance to flow through the body. A cold heart muscle may not return to a normal rhythm as easily as one at normal temperature. There will also probably be additional challenges to effective CPR technique, such as the need to transport, and environmental factors such as wind and snow. Also be aware that the pulse may be very slow and difficult to detect in a subject suffering from severe hypothermia.

References

  1. Fox, R.H., et al., Body Temperature In The Elderly: A National Study Of Physiological, Social And Environmental Conditions. Br Med J 1 (1973) pp. 200-206.
  2. Coleman, A., et al., A Pilot Study Of Low Body Temperatures In Old People Admitted To Hospital. J R Coll Physicians Lond 11 (1977) pp. 291-306.
  3. Edlich, R.F., et al., Cold Injuries And Disorders. Current Concepts Trauma Care (1986) pp. 4-11.
  4. From hypothermia training material on SARBC's web site at http://www.sarbc.org/hypo.html.
  5. Stedha, J.A., Efficacy And Safety Of Prehospital Rewarming Techniques To Treat Accidental Hypothermia. Ann Emerg Med 20 (1991) pp. 896-901.
  6. Webb, P., Afterdrop Of Body Temperature: An Alternative Explanation. J. Appl Physiol 60 (1986) pp. 385-390.
  7. Romett, T.T., Mechanism Of Afterdrop After Cold Water Immersion. J. Appl Physiol 65 (1988) pp. 1535-1538.

Back to Top
Coming Attractions by Tom Russo
Next month's minilesson will be on fire starting techniques; we'd planned to have that lesson in this issue, but the hands-on experiments aren't finished and the photographs aren't processed yet. We have a new member, Joyce, who is working on an article on snakebites, and this one might be in the next issue as well. Back to Top
Public Relations by Susan Corban
This little committee is a movin' and a shakin'. That is, movin' to REI to do a recruitment presentation and shakin' down the town for volunteers with packs and compasses. Since David Dixon (thanks, David) created the outline for our recruitment presentation, we're ready to take our show on the road. We expect to schedule recruitment presentations until St. Chad's isn't big enough for meetings and mission attendance is excessive.

Cibola was represented at the fourth annual Dia del Rio, Saturday, October 17. This program is geared to environmental education and preservation of the Rio Grande bosque. We provided educational information and recruited new members from the outdoor-oriented crowd. Thanks to Don Gibson, Larry Mervine, and Joyce Rumschlag for staffing the table.

If you read the Albuquerque Journal look in the Thursday Recreation Calendar for Cibola listings. Our meetings and recruitment messages will appear regularly. Back to Top
On the Right Track by Mary Berry
The canine unit has been training regularly on Tuesdays and every other weekend, and we seem to be growing some. In addition to me and Mickey J., Terri Prichtel and Melissa Hardin (Terry Hardin's wife) have been attending.

Terri has a young Border Collie by the name of "Sunny," and she is busy playing fun and short hide-and-seek games with him. This dog is crazy for tennis balls, and so has been really easy to convince that the game is a blast. Right now, she is training him to be an area search air-scent dog.

Melissa has a young Rottweiler, "Cindy," that she is teaching man-trailing. "Cindy" is a bundle of energy and Melissa is finding that it is indeed a challenge to run behind her, long leash and all.

Both new dogs are doing really well. Mickey and "Jake" are putting the finishing touches on long search problems, and "JC" and I have been practicing more aged trails (12 hr or more old) in anticipation of taking the Advanced certification soon.

We have had some non-dog handlers help us out a lot recently too. Steve Meserole has been coming often to hide for us. Thanks, Steve! In addition, Jacob, our new Boy Scout helper, has also been attending. Usually he brings his brother or a friend along. He is turning out to be a lot of help, and as soon as this project is approved by his District leader, we will have three boys attending each training.

Our decision to change the air-scent standards has been stalled somewhat. NASAR is coming out with some standards which are suggested for use by teams around the country. They are suggested, not mandatory, for teams belonging to NASAR. (CSAR is not a member of NASAR.) We will definitely be looking at those standards when they come out, but this will likely not be until next year. In the meantime, we plan to continue re-evaluating our standards and make the necessary changes by the end of the year.

As always, please contact me or Mickey if you would like to participate in any of our trainings, or would just like to watch and learn. Back to Top
Web News by Tom Russo
Once again web development this month centered around technical aspects of the database system, when it centered around anything at all. Turns out that the database server I was using, mSQL, isn't very good at handling complicated queries such as the ones needed to answer questions like "who has all their certifications already?" (In SQL that takes quite a lot more words than it does in English.) So I've copied the entire website onto my home machine and have begun porting the database to a different SQL server, MySQL. Where mSQL took 2 minutes and 40 seconds to check whether one person was fully certified, it took MySQL .05 seconds. I think it'll be worth the change. Fortunately very little programming will need to be done, but rather than break things that already work, I'll just change the programs on my home machine and one day they'll magically work on the official site.

I have also set up the What's New page with a link to "Netminder" --- you can ask to be emailed whenever the What's New page changes. The What's New page only includes the public documents, but it gets updated whenever a newsletter's published, a link is added to the "other interesting sites" page, and so forth. You might consider checking that link out rather than periodically checking to see if there's anything new on the site. Back to Top
NMESC Notes by Nancy O'Neill
This month's board meeting had to be cancelled. We have rescheduled it for November 21st at the Albuquerque State Police HQ; committee meetings start at 0900 and the general meeting starts at 1300. Any SAR member is welcome to attend and even put in two cents during the general meeting. In my capacity as ESCAPE coordinator, I would really like to hear from you what you want as far as classes for next year's ESCAPE. One potential class on tap is a High Angle Litter Evac class taught by Jon Holmes of the Border Patrol SAR. He says it'd be a 1/2 day class with hands on experience. How does this sound? Back to Top
Interview with Rick Goodman by Mike Dugger
After visiting our team during our last business meeting, Rick Goodman, the New Mexico state SAR Resource Officer, agreed to be interviewed by editors of the Lost & Found, team newsletter of Cibola Search and Rescue. On Saturday, October 17, 1998, Rick responded to some questions about SAR management, and his perspective on the evolution of our "hobby" in New Mexico.

L&F: How did Search and Rescue as we know it get started in New Mexico?

Rick: Up until the late '60s or early '70s, there was no state policy regarding who was responsible for search and rescue. County sheriffs, Forest Service employees, essentially anybody who wanted to be in charge of a mission, could be. At about the same time, there were several highly publicized fatalities in the wilderness. A small plane crashed near Cimarron, in which two of the four passengers were killed. A hang glider pilot was also killed after launching off of Sandia Crest. In both cases, the missions did not run as smoothly as they should have. Many people in the search and rescue community started to wonder if there wasn't a better way of doing things. The Bernalillo Emergency Services Council was formed, and I became the leader of ARES [Editor's note - this was the start of the same organization that we use today to furnish communications and call teams], an ARRL (American Radio Relay League) affiliate. The SAR volunteers wanted to become better organized. For example, we got a Forest Service employee to be in charge of all missions in the Sandias. A team called ACRA was the one usually called for Sandia missions, and we wanted to make sure that ALL teams that could help were called when needed.

At that time, teams were much more territorial than today. Albuquerque teams were never called to a mission north of Algodones, and northern teams never were called for Sandia missions. Several volunteers started talking to people in state government about search and rescue liability. We went first to the Governor, and he sent us to see the Attorney General. The basic question we asked was, "If a hunter was lost somewhere in New Mexico and died as a result, who would be liable?" Up until this time, the state was believed to be protected by sovereign immunity, which said that the state was like the king of a sovereign nation and could not be sued. At about this time, however, the state lost a law suit after several children were killed in a bus/semi accident, and had to pay damages because the accident took place on a state highway. This demonstrated that the state could be held liable for damages.

The Governor formed a SAR task force consisting of about 20 members, of which three were volunteers from the SAR community, and the rest were bureaucrats. The task force was chaired by Bob White of the state aeronautics division, and reported to the state planning office. After some frustration with the bureaucracy involved, I resigned from the task force. A few other SAR volunteers and I continued to meet separately, and we put together our own ideas of what the state policy should look like. Contributors to this plan, in addition to myself, were John Golf, Gary Williams, and Don Mattox. We were asked by Dr. Oliveras, director of the state planning office, to draft a minority report from the SAR volunteers. In the plan developed by the task force, something like nine phone calls would be required to activate a volunteer team for a mission. In the minority report's plan, only three phone calls were required in a worst- case situation. Our plan was preferred by the state government, and put into executive order form in about 1973 or 1974. The order was made into law in 1978, and it was a couple of years before the SAR office really got funded at the state level.

L&F: How long have you been involved in SAR?

Rick: I was active in the outdoors long before I got involved with search and rescue. As a kid in the 1950s, I spent a few years in the Boy Scouts, where I did a lot of hiking. In high school I was hired by a couple of local TV stations (KOB ch-4 & KGGM ch-13) to help build a trail up Chimney Canyon as a route for getting power up to the towers on Sandia Crest. I started in SAR in about 1970 working with ACRA and going on missions in the Sandias, utilizing my skills as an amateur radio operator (W5ALR). I was also in the military in Alaska, where I did some hiking and climbing - I climbed at about the 5.5 level, and have hiked several 14K peaks. A lot of my hiking experience has been relatively recent, and I still get out on the trails regularly. I would say that most of my direct SAR experience has been in base camp, but I have been in the field enough to understand SAR from the field person's perspective, too. In fact, the last time I was in the field on a mission was last month.

L&F: What is the role of the SAR Resource Officer in New Mexico?

Rick: I am the primary point of contact for SAR in New Mexico, between the volunteers and the state and from any outside agencies or organizations. I communicate from the volunteer teams, committees, etc. up to the state offices, and from the state offices down to the teams. There are two facets to my job. Administratively, I work for the Emergency Management Center in the Department of Public Safety. Operationally, I report to the Chief of the State Police.

L&F: How did you get the job as Resource Officer, and why did you want it?

Rick: I had been teaching SAR topics as a consultant for about eight years before I got the job. Bill Vargas, the former SAR Resource Officer, was about to retire. I was asked by several people in the community to apply for the job. I had been a volunteer for about 20 years, so I thought I had some unique perspective to bring to the job, and I decided to apply. There were something like 50 applicants, which were filtered down to six, of which three were interviewed, and I got the job.

L&F: What would you say have been the three most significant changes in SAR during your watch as Resource Officer?

Rick: First, I would say that formation of the PACE committee and implementation of basic Field Certification for volunteers has provided a way for us to ensure that participants have some basic SAR skills.

Next, the creation of Incident Management Teams, which are volunteers with a lot of experience in SAR management, has improved the level of care we are able to provide to the missing subject on longer missions. The idea came about after I saw some statistics on how long into a mission the subjects were found. A large number are found within the first six or so hours after a mission begins. The number of subjects found between six and 12 hours after the start of a mission then drops off, and there is another peak at longer times, say out to 18 hours. Now think about who responds to most missions. In the initial attack, that first six hours, you get all the gung-ho volunteers who go on every mission they can, and have lots of experience. The same holds true of the incident management staff, from the Incident Commander to all the section chiefs. Toward the end of the first operational period, all those experienced resources are getting burned out, and other resources must be called in. Chances were good that these later resources were less experienced than those in the first operational period. So later in the mission, when the subject actually needed a higher standard of care, they were getting a lower standard of care due to the less experienced people involved. Now we have identified a select group of field coordinators and section chiefs as our Overhead Team. These are some of our most experienced ICS managers to start with, and have the time and motivation to attend additional training on a regular basis. Now, if a mission lasts into a second operational period, this Overhead Team is called in to manage it. We can now ensure that as the needs of the subject go up by being missing longer, the level of expertise and training applied to the search also goes up.

Finally, we have made some significant changes to the SAR plan. It was re-written about three years ago to reflect the way we really do business. In particular, the way we handle possible drowning victims and air missions was dramatically improved.

L&F: How would you like to see SAR evolve in New Mexico?

Rick: I think that the use of new electronic tools will greatly improve our efficiency and effectiveness. Saving lives in SAR is most directly related to time. That is, to be more effective, we need to find the subject faster. If we can use technology to shorten the time it takes to get resources to an assignment and cover an area, we can increase our effectiveness. I'm particularly excited about the use of GPS and APRS (Automatic Position Reporting System) [Editor's note: check out http://www.aprs.net or links on the CSAR home page, http://www.swcp.com/csar, for more information] to increase our effectiveness. Before this technology was available, we could send a team into the field and never really know what area they covered, or how well they covered it, beyond their best guess. This is not a reflection on the abilities of the team, but rather an inherent limitation in trying to assign a search area by looking at a map in base camp. Finding that area in the field and searching it can be difficult, perhaps with the constraint of features or hazards that were unknown at base camp. Now we can outfit a team with a GPS and transceiver, and program their search area into the GPS. This way they will know when they are in the area we want them to search, and we can evaluate the effectiveness of their search to determine if we need to send additional resources into that area. Again, this is not about policing teams to make sure they searched their area to 100% probability of detection, but about having some hard data on exactly what areas were covered to determine where to put additional resources.

In the more distant future, I can see a trend toward asking more of our SAR volunteers, but giving more in return for that effort. I think we can look at the EMS bureau for an indication of where SAR is headed. The public expects a high level of effort and skill from search and rescue. I expect that we will continue to specialize, and get more and more training. At some point, we will probably have a system where SAR personnel are paid for the time they spend on a mission. When SAR personnel are paid, this increases their responsibility for providing a certain standard of care, but also gives the state the authority to require certain types of training.

L&F: What can the SAR volunteers do to help it evolve that way?

Rick: I would like to be more in tune with what teams in the field really want. Volunteers can help our system evolve by providing me with input on better ways to use new tools, such as GPS and APRS, to make us more effective. This technology is becoming more and more affordable all the time, and we should take advantage of it.

L&F: Let's go back to New Mexico Field Certification for a minute. Do you envision a time when certification with the state will be required to participate in SAR?

Rick: I hope not. This would interfere with the Incident Commander's ability to make use of local resources. For example, we should always use whatever expertise about the local terrain is available, such as from ranchers, people who live there, etc. I can imagine a scenario where the Incident Commander is faced with people from the area who want to help, along with several state certified volunteers. The IC should make the certified volunteers team leaders, or reserve assignments for them where proper gear, clothing, and navigation skills would be critical, such as in the Pecos high country in February.

L&F: You always seem to be struggling with a budget that is insufficient to do what you want to do. Is there any attempt to bolster the budget for SAR in New Mexico through user fees, extra taxes on hunting licenses, or any other method?

Rick: It's really not that bad. Other than salaries and administrative expenses, the major item in the budget is for reimbursement of fuel and oil expenses for our volunteers. There is adequate budget to cover this. Even in years when these expenditures exceed funds, the department (of Public Safety) has made up the difference so that we have never had a problem reimbursing volunteers. The service provided by SAR volunteers is highly valued by those in state government, and they feel that reimbursing gas and oil expenses is the least they can do in return. Regarding funds for other things, what would we use it for? We could consider assigning radios to volunteers for use on missions. But then someone has to administer the program, and we have to worry about loss and damage, and getting them back when people quit doing SAR. Any equipment assigned by the state would require a lot of overhead to manage. One thing I have considered is providing batteries at base camp when volunteers come back in from the field. This would be in return for providing base camp with some electronic data in the form of GPS coordinates. For example, we might have a laptop computer and GPS data cables at base camp, and then set up teams with APRS tracking, and download the coordinates of their assignment directly into their GPS. When they return from their assignment, they would be given a fresh set of batteries for their GPS. It's an incentive to have volunteers participate in making more use of APRS to help us manage the search.

L&F: It seems as though SAR in New Mexico is evolving and becoming rapidly more sophisticated. You've visited many other states and countries to talk about SAR. How would you compare SAR in New Mexico to that in other states, as well as abroad?

Rick: There are a couple of factors that combine to make SAR in New Mexico unique, and make our system one of the top ones in the nation, and perhaps the world. First, we have an incredible diversity of terrain and weather conditions here. We have desert plains where volunteers may have to spend the entire day searching in temperatures over 100 F with no shade. We also have mountainous regions over 13,000 feet where searchers may have to spend the night on snowshoes in a whiteout with danger of avalanche and sub-zero temperatures. Add to this the caves, canyons, rivers and lakes, and a SAR volunteer has the possibility of encountering conditions right in New Mexico about as challenging as anywhere on the planet. I expect that there are teams elsewhere that are more specialized in certain aspects of SAR than some of our local teams. However, I doubt that the breadth of skills we have developed here is rivaled anywhere. An additional feature of our state is the low population density, 13 people per square mile, where people can get lost in hundreds of square mile areas where nobody would be expected to tread for months or even years. The second factor that makes SAR in New Mexico special is the system we have adopted for managing it. All SAR in the entire state is managed by the state police, which have jurisdiction everywhere. We therefore have a single system with centralized management and a well-defined chain of command. This makes it much easier to implement changes than, for example, a state where each county is responsible for SAR and may do things slightly different from neighboring counties. This system allows us to respond rapidly to changes in techniques or technology that can help us do our jobs better.

That concludes our interview. The editors would like to thank Rick for sharing his perspectives with us, and with our readers. We've learned a lot about what SAR may look like in the future. Back to Top
Disclaimer the Editors
The information in this newsletter was gathered from many sources and presents facts as we believe them to be true. This newsletter is not meant to be an official document, but a means to disseminate team information.