I've been an active Search & Rescue volunteer since 2007 with the Coconino County Sheriff's SAR Team in northern Arizona.
A Long Weekend Of Search & Rescue Classes And "Tracks"
In October, 2009, I attended my first three-day SARCity Conference in Barstow, California. SARCity is organized and run by the Barstow Desert Rescue Squad in cooperation with the San Bernardino County Sheriff, the Office of Emergency Services (OES), and Barstow Community College.
This was SARCity's 37th year, offering more than 50 classes taught by over 100 volunteer instructors. Some classes lasted an hour or two or four, while others -- called "tracks" -- spanned the entire weekend.
And there was something for everyone, from those just starting out in Search and Rescue to seasoned veterans, from K9 handlers to those involved with technical rescue and general SAR.
Below an overview of the conference and my personal experience while there, including photos of the event.
Other Search and Rescue Conferences
I'll add conference information here as I find it.
If you know of a conference and a website URL for information but don't find it here, please leave a message in the comments section below, so I can add it to the list. (Thank you!)
- Northwest SARCon
Held each year at the Resort at the Mountain in Welches, Oregon
- Indiana-Kentucky SAR Conference
Held in Lincoln City, Indiana
- SARAZ.ORG: Arizona State SAR Conference
Held every 18 months to two years in Heber, Arizona.
International SAR Conference in Reykjavik, Iceland
- IDHS Search and Rescue Conference
Held at the IDHS Search and Rescue Training Center Camp Atterbury, Indiana
- Little Egypt Search And Rescue SAREX
Held at Dixon Springs State Park in Southern Illinois. Sign up online on their website.
- Montana SAR Rendezvous
Montana State SAR Rendezvous. 651 likes. Multi-day SAR training event. Completed for 2016. Will be hosted by Red Lodge SAR in 2017.
What a great variety of classes there were to choose from at SAR City, and the synopses of instructor qualifications were very impressive.
Many of the classes counted towards certifications and continuing education credits for search and rescue and medical personnel.
There may have been some last-minute class cancellations -- after all, the instructors are SAR folks too, who may have been called away on missions -- but these are the courses that were on the schedule when we arrived at the conference:
- Abandoned Mine Hazards and Rescue
- Advanced Thermal Vision Technology for SAR Applications
- Alzheimers: Understanding and Managing the SAR Incident
- Analysis of a Search
- APRS for Situational Awareness in SAR
- Arizona Vortex (the Artificial High Directional)
- ATV Certification Course
- AWR 160-WMD Awareness Training
- Basic Map and Compass for SAR
- Basic Survival
- Basic and Intermediate Man-Trailing (K9)
- Bone ID
- Boot Fitting
- Building Search
- Cave SAR
- Considerations of Rope Rescue
- Crime Scene Preservation
- Crimes Against Children
- Dehydration and Emergency Response Team
- Desert Survival
- Drug Lab Awareness
- Effective Partnering of Mounted SAR and SAR Dogs
- Forensics for SAR I
- Forensics for SAR II
- Fostering Good Judgment in Your SAR Team
- GPS and UTM: Where Am I?
- Ham Radio (16 hours)
- HazMat (16 hours)
- Helitac (or What To Do With The Flying Cuisinart)
- High Altitude Physiology: Understanding Cause and Effect
- How To Make Your Disaster Drill Not A Disaster
- How To Find Your Subject: Scent Behavior (K9)
- How To Read Your Dog
- Improve Your Hiking
- Improve Your Hiking With Poles
- Interview and Investigation Techniques for Search and Rescue
- Introduction to GIS For Search and Rescue (8 hours)
- Introduction to Search and Rescue Management in the Urban Environment
- Man Tracking (16 hours)
- Medical Emergencies
- Mini K9 Medic
- Moulage: Quick and Easy Reusable Serious Injuries
- Night Navigation
- Nutrition in the Field: What Really Works
- Poison Oak
- Rappelling With Your Dog
- Rattlesnake Awareness
- Rattlesnake Awareness For Dogs
- SAM Splint
- SAR Incident Management and organization (FUNSAR CH. 3)
- SAR Resource and Technology (FUNSAR CH. 7)
- SAR Safety and Marijuana Gardens
- SAR Standards: What are they and why do they matter?
- Scanner and Observer Training (16 hours)
- Scene Size-Up in the Wilderness Setting
- Searching for the Suicidal Person
- Searching the Age of Online Social Network
- The Future of SAR Dogs in California
- The State of SAR Dogs Today
- Theory of Scent (K9) ~~ Trauma Assessment
- What's New With ELT's
- Wild Edible Plants
- Winter Considerations
- Winter Survival
The Saturday evening presentation was given by Paul J. Doherty from Yosemite National Park Search & Rescue (YOSAR).
The SARCity Location and Accommodations
The Barstow Community College campus
My "home" for the weekend was my tent, set up on the Barstow Community College soccer field. The nearby gym was open 24 hours a day, with access to bathrooms and showers.
Those staying in motor homes and trailers used the upper baseball field parking lot, while those who wanted hookups went to the KOA or Calico Ghost Town campsites about 10 miles away. And for SARCity attendees who preferred a motel room, there was an amply supply within three miles of the campus.
For a list of nearby lodging, see the Accommodations page at SarCityUSA.org.
Four meals--Saturday breakfast, lunch and dinner, and Sunday breakfast--were included with the conference fee. (With the exception of the eggs ...) I thought the food was very good, with an ample variety of main and side dishes, fresh fruit and melon, desserts and drinks. It was also nice to have an hour and a half for meals, plenty of time to get to the cafeteria, eat, and then get to the next class session. I've been to a couple of SAR conferences where there wasn't really enough time for meals.
If you plan to arrive at a SAR City on Friday before the evening classes begin, you can either go out to eat at a variety of nearby restaurants or be sure to bring dinner with you, because there's nothing available on campus that night besides some snacks.
The classes took place on the Barstow Community College campus.
Vendors set up their wares around the gym, from technical rescue and K-9 equipment to general SAR and survival gear.
Four full meals were included in the conference fee. Most of the tables were located in a sunny courtyard.
I thought this harness from Wolfpack Gear was pretty cool. There's a hydration pack, fanny pack and more on the back and sides.
The SARCity Man-Tracking "Track" Class
A full weekend of tracking instruction and practice
Though I've taken man-tracking classes from my own experienced teammates and two 8-hour tracking classes from other SAR teams at the Arizona State conference, I decided to take 16 additional hours of man-tracking instruction at SAR City. I like to learn from different people -- to pick up new techniques and tricks -- and then continue to practice on my own.
Though it's sometimes difficult to keep from saying, "Yes, but..." when someone tells you that what you learned elsewhere is wrong, or teaches you a different way of performing a skill you've done a certain way with your own teammates, I tried my best to keep my mouth shut and listen ... even when a field instructor physically pulled me to a different location from which to flank.
Overall, though, I thought the SARCity man-tracking class, taught by retired Sergeant and SAR Coordinator Darryl Heller, was excellent. He interwove classroom instruction with numerous visual examples, video, and firsthand stories of man-tracking in both urban and backcountry environments, and relating to both law enforcement and Search & Rescue situations. About half the class time was spent in the field, following tracks in the desert surrounding the college.
Though I did find the course to be top-notch, I occasionally had issues with field instructors, who did what I felt was a little too much tracking at times and, when a "next step" was proving to be a challenge to find, didn't always allow students enough time to work through it on their own.
Still, I learned a lot during this course and highly recommend it. Even if you've done some tracking with your own Search and Rescue team and/or have taken courses from other instructors, I think it's really valuable to get different perspectives on the skill. Darryl gave good overviews of the different aspects of man-tracking along with strategies for isolating a lost or missing person's track, finding sign on difficult surfaces such as desert "pavement," concrete and blacktop, through vegetation and even on broken glass and brake pedals.
Students who attended the entire 16-hour class receive a certificate, mailed to them several weeks after the conference.
In the field, we had to go track by track, even in the most difficult terrain, marking each as we went along.
Sometimes it took several pairs of eyes to find the next sign, which may have been one tiny, displaced pebble.
All field teams came together for debriefings at the end of each session.
My Comments About The SARCity Conference
I Give SARCity An "A"
I thought the conference fee ($85 for registration up through late September and $95 thereafter, with a discount for team registrations) was a very good value for what was offered and for the use of the campus facilities. The quality of the 16-hour class I took was excellent, and I heard the same from many other people about the classes they attended.
I liked the college setting, with nice classrooms and plenty of room for tenting and RV and vehicle-camping. The classrooms and facilities were within easy walking distance, so we didn't have to rush to get from one location to another as I've had to do at other conferences.
I do wonder why they don't have a discount for opting out of the meals, in which case they'd have a better idea of how much food to have on hand. I know that my teammate didn't eat the meals they provided and met several others who didn't either, yet they paid the same price as the rest of us. And I saw lots of leftover food.
There was some confusion when we first arrived. My teammate and I had a little difficulty finding the college, since there was no sign out front. And when we got there midday on Friday, there were no signs directing us to where we should camp and no one around to assist us at the time. Not a big deal, but we'd figured that, since classes would begin that evening, there would be more information by midday. So if you arrive at SARCity early, don't expect anything to happen before about 3pm on Friday when registration begins, because the campus is in use for regular classes and students for part of that day.
Also, after you send in your registration (unless you register in person on the first day of the conference), you'll receive in the mail some college forms. This was confusing to me, since it looked like paperwork for regular students. Nonetheless, we all have to fill them out, because they're required by the Barstow Community College. I just filled them out the best I could, omitting my Social Security number and putting an N/A next to anything that didn't apply, and mailed them back.
On a general note, I found the folks from Barstow Desert Rescue Squad who were around during the conference to be very friendly and helpful, and I thank them for the excellent job they do putting the conference together. I look forward to going back again.
Visit Barstow Desert Rescue Squad's SARCity website at SARCityUSA.org
The Barstow Desert Rescue Squad
Our hosts for SARCity
Based in the city of Barstow in San Bernadino County, California, the all-volunteer Barstow Desert Rescue Squad participates in all types of SAR missions but specializes in mine rescue. The team is responsible for approximately 10,000 square miles, up to the Nevada border and halfway to Arizona.
For information on the Barstow Desert Rescue Squad or to volunteer, call the Barstow Sheriff's station at (760)256-4838.
© 2009 Deb Kingsbury
Questions or Comments About SARCity or Search & Rescue?
anonymous on November 25, 2009:
Ramkitten, what a great contribution you are making to the SAR community. I just e-mailed your link out to our SAR Team. What a website!...fresh, interesting & accurate...excellent writing.
I've been a SAR Tech II / WEMT, since 2002, for the Madera County Sheriff's SAR Team located at Bass Lake, CA (just outside Yosemite Nat'l Park)...thank you for what you are doing.
PS...been to SARCITY every year since 2002 (I agree with your comments)...see you in 2010!
luvmyludwig lm on October 16, 2009:
This is wonderful! It's a great resource for others planning to attend in the future.
Cynthia Sylvestermouse from United States on October 13, 2009:
Well, in spite of a few hitches, it sounds like you had a wonderful conference. Every time I read one of your SAR lenses, I think I would like to be on a search & rescue team.
Seeking Pearls from Pueblo West on October 12, 2009:
I enjoyed reading this lens about your experience at the Search & Rescue Conference. Interesting and well-written.
LoKackl on October 12, 2009:
How fascinating! And, what a great way to volunteer. I remember reading in one of my doggie magazines about a man who in his 80s still trained dogs for search and rescue, and participated in some searches. After he retired he started doing it almost full time. What a wonderful way to stay part of a caring bunch of people (and dogs!)