Types of SAR Incidents

What other types of incidents usually require a SAR response?

Following are ten (10) common incidents that precipitate the need for a SAR response, in no particular order:


  • Subject walks away, commonly a patient affected by Alzheimer’s or Dementia, from a nursing home, becomes disoriented and can not find their way back.
  • If the same subject drives away in a confused state, it is essentially a search for the vehicle first before any ground search strategy will be effective looking for the missing person.
  • Wandering subjects may drift in and out of lucidity (i.e. speaking clearly to a bus driver one minute but incoherently to a store clerk minutes later) making their behavior hard to predict.


  • A subject, commonly a child, is abducted by a stranger and is believed to be a victim of child homicide.
  • These searchers are highly sensitive and involve a tremendous police presence due to the entire mission being a criminal investigation.
  • The FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) maintains an exhaustive amount of research and statistics about abductions (custodial and non-custodial).
  • Because of the sensitivity of the subject, searchers should be prepared to address their mental health needs along with their fellow responders.  An expanded section on Critical Incident Stress is included later in this course.


  • Subject could be lost hiker, hunter, berry picker or adventurous child who is unaccounted for.
  • People become lost for a multitude of reasons, though searching for them typically involves a very similar strategy.
  • Some people are unaccounted for because they don’t want to be found so many cities have established criteria that throttles or escalates an official response based on things like the age of the missing person, length of time missing, reported mental status, etc.  For example, a child under 12 may be searched for immediately after their reported status while a 17-year-old child may not be considered missing until after 24 hours without some extenuating circumstances.


  • Many suicidal subjects commit their act where they can be easily found but some subjects hide in hopes that they will not be located, therefore a search mission is appropriate.
  • Depending on when the SAR mission is initiated, a suicidal person may not have ended their life yet so searchers should be trained to deal with an armed and highly agitated individual if they find him or her still alive.


  • Subject is dumped at an unknown location after being killed or disarticulated human remains are scattered due to scavenging and need to be recovered.
  • Searching for a homicide suspect AND the homicide victim is significantly different and should be exercised with extreme caution and only by appropriately trained resources.


  • Resulting from tornadoes, earthquake, explosions, fires or other structural compromises.  Subjects are trapped and require technical assistance to be removed.
  • As previously mentioned, this type of response is typically done by heavy rescue or Urban SAR teams that have the training, equipment, and resources to work for a sustained period in this type of environment.
  • At the local level, however, a single building that collapses or burns down may create the need for local SAR resources.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as gloves, steel-toed boots, eye protection and a helmet are basic safety measures required to respond to a structural collapse.


  • Dangerous to human life and intended to cause great destruction to key resources and our nation’s critical infrastructure.
  • Like the horrific events of September 11th, 2001 a terrorist incident is the mother of all crimes scenes and the careful vetting of search and rescue responders is paramount.
  • The responses to terrorist events will likely involve a vast amount of different responding agencies.
  • Increasingly, training in hazardous materials and chemical weapons is expected before responding as a SAR resource to a Terrorist Incident.


  • There are approximately 250,000 registered aircraft in the United States and most are small and hard to find should they crash.
  • One third (1/3) of the United States is covered in trees (about 750 million acres) making it especially difficult to search for an aircraft, especially without an accurate starting point.


  • Resulting from hurricanes or floods.  Subjects are trapped in a compromised structure or vehicle; washed away by floodwaters or reported missing while swimming or boating.
  • Swiftwater response is very specialized and requires a great deal of training and experience.  The dynamic nature of moving water can be extremely dangerous for victims and responders.
  • Flatwater response is less dynamic and may involve rescue divers, pike poles, and water recovery search dogs.


  • These search responses typically last for many, many days or weeks in very austere conditions due to the extraordinary size and scope of the damage and the enormity of the search task.
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