Intro – SAR Fundamentals

Learning Objectives

Course participants will:

  • Define the different search and rescue incidents and their causes.
  • Identify the types of search and rescue resources that respond to an incident.
  • Compare the different levels of response to a search and rescue incident.
  • Recognize what level of training is needed to safely and effectively perform search and rescue operations.

Click each title below for an important note about ....

Acronyms ...

The Course Content ...

National Search and Rescue systems ...

Now, let's get started.


Please watch this quick news story from WPRI in Rhode Island:

Volume adjustment and closed captions are available via the controls on the bottom right of the video.

Congratulations to all of the responders who did their part to provide a positive outcome for that gentleman!

It is important to note that while one person and their search dog received the credit for finding him, it took ALL of the responders doing their part in their assigned area that enabled the one searcher to locate the missing person.  

Always remember, search and rescue is a TEAM activity.


Search and Rescue (SAR) refers to the organized operation conducted by trained responders to search for and rescue or recover those persons who become lost, missing or entrapped by a natural or man-made disaster.

There are five (5) primary categories of search and rescue. 

Since it's important to operate with the same definitions, here’s a brief explanation of each category:

  • Combat SAR – refers to search and rescue in with an emphasis on combat forces operating in and around a war zone.  While many aspects are applicable, Combat SAR is outside the scope of what will be covered in this course.
  • Sea-Air SAR – the common dominion of the United States Coast Guard where people or vessels are lost at sea.  While many aspects are applicable, Sea-Air SAR is outside the scope of what will be covered in this course.
  • Wilderness SAR –also referred to as Ground SAR and includes searches in inland waterways.  Structures including suburban areas including residential homes and light industrial are sometimes included in references to Wilderness SAR.
  • Urban SAR – historically refers to a collapsed structure environment that requires a specialized response with enhanced training.
  • Mountain SAR – typically refers to a search and rescue operations in a mountainous terrain and involving air support and high angle rope rescues.  Since the majority of Mountain SAR concepts are applicable, Mountain SAR will be addressed in this level of course under the guise of just “SAR”.

This is important because each category of SAR has different qualifications, requirements and sponsoring agencies. 

And knowing the difference is a necessary and fundamental understanding for SAR practitioners.

In summary, when we refer to “SAR” we are referring to the knowledge, skills, and abilities to conduct Wilderness SAR, Urban SAR and/or Mountain SAR.

Except for the overlapping skills, Combat SAR and Sea-Air SAR are outside the scope of this course.

Which kind of SAR Mission was the search for the gentlemen in the previous news story?

If you said “Wilderness SAR”, you're correct.  

Even though the mission was in a suburban area, it did not involve a collapsed building or mountainous terrain.

Key Definitions:  Event v. Incident

  • Event = a Planned ActivityI.e., street festival, scheduled training, parade, etc.
  • Incident = an UN-Planned ActivityI.e., a tornado, a missing hiker, a structure fire, etc.

When you are ready to move on , click below to continue to the next Lesson.

Lesson Content
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