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Search and Rescue Coordinator  What They Do

Just the Facts


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dotSearch and rescue coordinators -- whether they work on sea or on land -- have to be able to pull together a team on a moment's notice. That team will go out into the ocean, the mountains or even the city to find missing or injured people.

dotBut for all of the excitement, coordinators in general do little of the actual searching.

"We give [rescuers] direction as best we can on where to fly, but they actually handle the on-scene coordination," says Lt. Jason Ryan. He works with the U.S. Coast Guard.

"In cases where there are a lot of units that are going to be searching, we always designate an on-scene commander, which will be a U.S. Navy ship or aircraft, or a coast guard ship or aircraft."

dotWhen Ryan's center gets the call that a boat is taking on water or there is a person overboard, he directs the rescue operation.

He sends helicopters, aircraft and patrol boats to the scene. To keep the area safe and limit the possibility of other ships becoming injured during a rescue, he diverts merchant ships away from the scene.

"The term that they use to describe search and rescue planning is it is both an art and a science," he says. "Certain things can be reduced to mathematics as far as search planning goes, but a lot of it is detective work. That is where the art comes in."

dotOn land, the role of a search and rescue coordinator is a little different.

Search and rescue teams are pulled together to find a child that has wandered away from home, or to locate an elderly person who might be suffering from Alzheimer's.

"The basic job of the search manager is to determine the probability of area and coordinate the search teams to cover that [area] adequately," says coordinator Bob Gazzard.

"It would be my position to make sure that the facilities, the search and all the support groups are working as a team in a coordinated search effort."

dotThat kind of duty requires some specific knowledge. Familiarity with studies that talk about how a lost person tends to act is important, he says. Much of that knowledge comes from publicly available training, but most of it comes from experience.

At a Glance

Plan, prepare and lead life-saving teams

  • You'll work with a lot of volunteers on search and rescue teams
  • Most SAR coordinators are also emergency managers
  • Police work is a common background, with lots of specialized training and experience