The Ultimate Guide to Search and Rescue (SAR) Training

Is a career in Search and Rescue (SAR) right for you?

Searching for the lost and missing is a noble calling.  Is it calling you?  

The hours are long, the training is arduous and the discoveries - while rewarding - can stay with you for a long time, for better or worse.  

Plus, most SAR is conducted by volunteers without reimbursement and requires taking time off from a paying job.

In short, search and rescue (SAR) is not for everyone.  

The three (3) things you must know before volunteering to serve in Search and Rescue (SAR):

  1. What knowledge and skills are required for SAR?
  2. How much time and money does SAR cost?
  3. How and where do I get involved in SAR?

Some come to SAR for the attention, some come for the addition to their resume, some come because they like being outside.  However people that are driven by those external factors seldom last.  Nor should they, frankly.

But ... if you're motivated by the opportunity to help people on their worst day, to do things and to go places that most people are unwilling go and do, then SAR may be right for you.

Let's look at some options to move forward ...

Online Search and Rescue Training

Intro:  Free Search and Rescue Training via eMail

If you're not sure if you're ready to commit to search and rescue yet, this introductory course is delivered via email over 2 weeks.  

  • The emails are comprised of the same introductory lessons available for free in the full SAR Fundamentals course (opens in new tab).
  • Click below to learn more and to enroll at no cost or obligation.  
  • You can unsubscribe with 1-click at any time.

However, if you're already to commit to building your search and rescue knowledge, please keep reading ...

Search and Rescue (SAR) Training Online

Designed for groups and individuals, these courses provide a solid foundation for on-boarding new members and for providing refresher training to existing members.

Search & Rescue (SAR) Responder Membership

The first of its kind, TEAM Solutions now offers SAR Responder Memberships specifically designed for serious Search & Rescue Responders.

By combining ALL of the search & rescue courses, downloads and related resources into one choice, responders are now able to enroll one (1) time for the foundation training they need to be successful.

Available in convenient monthly and annual plans, virtually everything a SAR responder needs to know is available in one place.  

Exclusively for enrolled students of TEAM Solutions, SAR Responders have unlimited access to the following topics:

Search & Rescue Fundamentals

Managing a Crime Scene

Medical response including Bloodborne Pathogens

Team Communications

Responding to a Disaster & Assessing Damage

Responding to a Flood

Handling & Training a SAR K9

SAR Navigation

Managing a Search Mission

Working with an Emergency Operations Center

Responder Safety

Other current & future topics ...

Notes about your SAR Responder Membership:

  • Groups of 10 or more receive an automatic discount on enrollment (see below).
  • All current and future content is available as long as member maintains a current enrollment.
  • A complete list of current courses can be viewed in the "Course Catalog" section of this page.
  • Memberships can be paused and restarted by the member.
  • Courses and downloads are still available on an individual basis.
  • New members receive a 7-day free trail and a 100% money-back guarantee!

Group Enrollment

In another first for our industry, I'm pleased to offer a Group Enrollment opportunity for teams recognizing the value in consistently and efficiently on-boarding new members and refreshing existing members.

Discounts are built-in for groups of 10 or more, too.

The current catalog of online search and rescue courses is below.  Benefits to your team of enrolling in these courses include:

  • Certificates issued
  • Team controls enrollment
  • Transcripts available 
  • Self-paced
  • Access on any device
  • Note taking app built-in
  • Access to course developer
  • 1-year of full access

For teams of 10 or more members, begin by clicking the "Group Enrollment" button below, select your customized list of courses and start adding your members.  Keep scrolling to learn more about scholarship opportunities for groups.

Course Catalog

Other responder-related courses to strengthen you base of knowledge and skill:

Know Before You Enroll

Did you know that training industry experts believe that by the year 2020, nearly 85% of all on-boarding, foundation, and refresher training will take place online? (via E-Learn-Info Industry Report - 2016)

Read more about the advantages of online education by clicking each link below (articles open in a new tab):

I'm a Volunteer, Why Isn't This Free?

The training presented here has been created and assembled by professional TEAM Solutions subject-matter experts based on our experiences and insights responding to and instructing local, state and federal Search & Rescue for over 20 years.  

We don't expect an amateur to reliably perform Search & Rescue operations so how would amateur SAR training produce a different result?

One of my first SAR trainers told our group that because of the work we were training to do, we were not SAR volunteers but "Unpaid Professionals" instead.  After all these years, I believe that now more than ever.

Therefore, the courses here are designed for the Unpaid Professional mindset and not the Volunteer mindset.  

The Unpaid Professional mindset often focuses on value, efficiency of time, and dedication to investing in their future

  • They're driven mostly by logic and are usually a great fit for the transformation I provide.

The Volunteer mindset often focuses on free, questionable standards, and entitlements.  

  • They're driven mostly by emotion and are not usually a good fit for the transformation I provide.

TEAM Solutions training is professionally developed and delivers measurable value to the Unpaid Professional dedicated to improving their knowledge and skill.

Alternative online providers of quality SAR skill-based training:

However, if price is your sole criteria on whether or not to invest in a SAR course, I'm afraid there aren't many options.  

Are any of these statements "true"?

  • "I don't need proof that I completed the training"
  • "I don't need a qualified and credentialed instructor"
  • "I'm not committed enough to invest any money, but I'm interested enough to invest some time"

If so, then you can do what many volunteers do:  fritter your day away searching for something that 'sounds right' (like I did when I started).  

Below are some links to get you started:

However, if you have an Unpaid Professional mindset and want to apply for a scholarship, refer to the "Group Scholarship Application" section of this guide.

How Can I Become a Certified SAR Instructor?

For those that understand the importance of a certified education, it's natural to also understand the importance of a certified SAR instructor.

Competent Instruction involves five (5) components:

  1. Subject Matter Knowledge/Expertise
  2. Classroom and Student Management Skills
  3. Instructor Ability
  4. Humility
  5. Professional Curriculum

[Learn more about enhancing your instructor skills HERE.]

Depending on the course, the credentials required for instructors varies widely.

Many of the available field skill certifications, like NASAR's SAR Tech II, only require that their certified evaluators sign off on the skill ... there's no requirement who teaches the skill.  

That allows NASAR to sell the certification books while the onus to learn the skill prior to being evaluated is on the student.

When I evaluated NASAR certifications for my local SAR team, our team also trained the member prior to their exam, even though there was no specific instructional certification to do so.

NASAR offers other field-based courses too.  They don't offer information about their instructional requirements, only that you must contact their executive director for information.  

When I was involved with the NASAR curriculum, my experience was that most 'qualified' instructors were not even close to meeting the 5 requirements listed above.  Perhaps that has changed now? 

If the course is homemade and only taught within a specific SAR team, then that SAR team defines what instructor credentials are required.

For national level courses, like FEMA courses that also involve a certification at the end, a much more stringent process is in place.

When I instructed SAR courses for FEMA, like Technical Search Specialist, Canine Search Specialist and Wide Area Search,  I had to be certified by FEMA, which can be an exhausting process.

My FEMA Technical Search Instructor application, for example, consisted of:

  • Proof of my training experience (actual certificates had to be submitted)
  • Signed statements verifying my 'shadowing' other certified instructors
  • A comprehensive resume of my SAR experience, again, with written documentation
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Certificate from an advanced instructor training course
  • Other background documents

For me to advance to a Lead Instructor status, I had to demonstrate even more mastery of the subject.  

The process can be demanding.  So much so that at last check, I am the only person on the planet to ever be simultaneously certified to teach the above 3 federal SAR courses!

So in summary, being certified to teach SAR requires mastery of subject, instructional ability, and conforming to the expectations of the course you'll be delivering. 

Group Scholarship Application

I provide a limited number of scholarships to groups - particularly non-profit groups - that are committed to improving the state of leadership.   

International Search and Rescue

Finding the lost and missing knows no boundaries ... however there are differences in some of the policies on how SAR is handled depending on where you're located.

Outside of the United States the International Search & Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) advises on those standards and methods.

"INSARAG is a global network of more than 90 countries and organisations under the United Nations umbrella. INSARAG deals with urban search and rescue (USAR) related issues, aiming to establish minimum international standards for USAR teams and methodology for international coordination in earthquake response ..."

Learn more about INSARAG here.

In-Person Search and Rescue Training

After nearly 20 years of responding and delivering search and rescue training in the field, my principal support of SAR is now on helping teams build stronger foundations via online training.

In addition, I provide many other opportunities to advance your crisis leadership, such as:

For SAR-specific training that's delivered in-person, I recommend:

  1. National Association for Search & Rescue (NASAR) for wilderness and light disaster skills
  2. Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) for disaster skills

Once you join a SAR team, assuming that is your goal, that team may have additional training requirements as well.

The Response Leadership Sequence™ Book

Learn more about my best-selling book, The Response Leadership Sequence, by clicking below.

Search and Rescue Downloads and Cheat Sheets

Job aids that I've used and shared with my SAR students through the years to simplify your response so you can focus on the mission.

Free Search and Rescue (SAR) Pocket Card

Free, downloadable reference card with the markings, symbols and tactics used by FEMA Urban Search & Rescue responders and anyone responding to a disaster environment.  Learn more here or download below.

Free Preliminary Damage Assessment (PDA) Pocket Card

Free, downloadable reference card with the strategies and checklists to inspect and document markings, symbols and tactics used by FEMA Urban Search & Rescue responders and anyone responding to a disaster environment.  Learn more here or download below.

Search and Rescue Insights via Blog

Search and Rescue Glossary

Click below to access some of the most common terms and phrases used in Search and Rescue (opens in new tab):

Search and Rescue Glossary

Contact Me

Who else needs to know?