How to Volunteer for Search and Rescue

By: Eleanor Duse

Search and Rescue Jobs

To get an idea of search-and-rescue jobs, just imagine all the different ways people can get lost. A search and rescue team might be called in to help in the following instances:

  • An Amber Alert is issued for a missing child.
  • A camper wanders off into the woods and gets lost.
  • A driver abandons his stalled truck in a blizzard.
  • A person leaps into a river in a suspected suicide attempt.
  • A hurricane or tornado causes widespread destruction.
  • A family doesn't return from its boating excursion.
  • A dangerous criminal is at large.

As these examples show, not all SAR jobs are rural, and not all of them demand rugged mountaineering skills. Many SAR jobs take place in cities. Familiarity with the environment -- whether it's a national forest or an urban jungle -- is an immense advantage. Where you live will define the types of SAR jobs you encounter.


Searching may be as simple as walking up and down city blocks and alleys [source: FEMA]. It could also involve knowing how to keep your bearings in a snowstorm, knowing how to rappel down a cliff, paddling a kayak or spotting signs of life from a helicopter. Some SAR jobs involve navigation skills, such as using GPS. The "rescue" part of the operation often demands first-aid skills, if not EMT training.

Although many SAR personnel are directly engaged in these efforts, some volunteers work in other capacities. An organizational whiz might volunteer to coordinate the efforts of others. Someone with technological abilities might create the systems that hold the team together and help it coordinate resources. Others might simply offer moral support -- bringing hot food and beverages to the teams, or offering food or comfort to the friends and family of the missing persons. These efforts may be classified as "critical incident stress management," or CISM.

Finally, some SAR personnel work to improve all SAR efforts. For example, the U.S. SAR Task Force maintains a database of "lost person behaviors" -- typical things that people do when they know they're lost or in trouble [source: U.S. SAR Task Force]. These patterns can help rescue personnel predict where a missing person might go. They can also help SAR teams have the right supplies to help that person.

On the next page, we'll look at the training required for these tasks.