How to Volunteer for Search and Rescue

By: Eleanor Duse

Search and Rescue Training

Being prepared for any emergency demands knowing what to do in a variety of difficult situations. Specific SAR teams have different training requirements, but here are some skills and training you will likely need:

  • First aid and CPR training. You may already have this; many people (such as teachers) are required to have it for their jobs. The Red Cross, among other organizations, offers brief training courses and certification in these skills.
  • Basic search and response training
  • SAR TECH training (This comes in three different levels of certification.)
  • Land navigation skills, such as using different types of maps, a compass and GPS
  • Hazardous materials (HazMat) training. You'll need this to deal with oil spills, chemical leaks, certain biohazards and more.
  • Emergency Response to Terrorism (or some other form of terrorism response training). This training was developed by the National Fire Academy for local law enforcement and fire response teams. You may earn certification in these skills.
  • Federal Community Emergency Response Team training. CERT training provides certification from the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) and helps local personnel respond to crises before federal personnel arrive.
  • Tracking skills
  • National Incident Management System training for First Responders¬†

[sources: Red Cross, NASAR, NFA]


Certain environments -- water, air, mountains, extreme cold and heat -- demand additional training. You'll have to be a good swimmer to participate in water SAR efforts, and you might want to have lifeguard training. You'll need to know how to work safely on a boat for SAR efforts that involve boating. Mountaineering and wilderness safety training are also important. And searching through the rubble of a collapsed building involves an entirely separate set of skills.

Finally, some SAR personnel seek training in counseling and stress management so that they can deal better with the families of missing persons and emergency victims. You might also want training in educational techniques if you will be assisting in your SAR team's outreach and preparation efforts.

Can all this training get expensive? In a word, yes. However, the National Association of Volunteer Search and Rescue Teams offers its members financial aid for training. It also offers grants to qualified member SAR teams so that the teams may bring training to their members [source: NAVSAR]. Some teams charge membership fees, which help the team defray the costs of providing training.

If you're getting into dangerous situations, you'd better have the equipment to deal with them. On the next page, we'll look at SAR gear.