How Much Does It Cost To Be A Search & Rescue Volunteer?

How Much Does It Cost To Be A Search & Rescue Volunteer?

Ever wonder how much it costs to be a Search & Rescue Volunteer?  Your answer is below.

CASE STUDY:

Search & Rescue Team


"Pat" manages an all-volunteer, Search & Rescue team.  The team relies on members that are spread out across four counties.  As a new member, "Sam" must meet minimum requirements for 1) training 2) attendance and 3) performance before he can respond on a real search.

That process required before Sam can be deemed 'operational' can take up to a year or more is one of several reasons that many new members like him quit.  This poses a challenge for Pat since not having enough qualified members to deploy on real searches can result in serious consequences for the mission to find the lost or missing person.

Many new members like Sam also come from the private sector, where the expectation to be productive is common.  They expect that the training they attend is:

  • Well organized? 
  • Time efficient?
  • Cost effective?
  • Valuable for their personal development?

Besides the extensive delay in training, frequent drop outs are the result of these failed expectations:

  • Too many hours spent driving to and from training, meetings and seminars
  • Too many hours spent attending training, meetings and seminars
  • Too much money spent going to training, conferences, seminars, buying books, etc.

It can be argued of course that the mission is better off without people like that, but the fact remains that quality SAR responders are hard to come by.  Identifying why some leave helps fuel a solution.

Let's expand some detail for Sam's journey:

  • Like most teams, Sam's team trains once per week and schedules a business meeting each month that often includes a training element.  Sam's team also hosts or attends pricey seminars, external training classes, certification courses, buys books, pays for testing fees, etc.  
  • In Sam's case, he also is training a dog for search & rescue.  The optional weekly training he attends to work with the team's experienced handlers and the related education is yet another commitment of time and expense.
  • Not including equipment costs, Sam's annual costs associated with earning an operational status can be gigantic.  Remember too, that other volunteer members are also contributing their time to help Sam receive the training he requires.
  • And that doesn't include the yearly 'maintenance' costs to keep Sam trained and his knowledge refreshed.

So, what's all of that time worth?  The non-profit trade group Independent Sector tracks and publishes this data every year:

"The value of a volunteer hour is $24.14 and the value of a volunteer mile is .14 cents."

 2016

Using those figures, here's a conservative breakdown of Sam's volunteer time and expense to participate in his SAR team on a monthly basis:

Activity per MONTH

MINIMUM Time Spent Per MONTH

MONTHLY Costs @ $24.14/hour

Time driving to and from training

8 hours

$193.12

Time attending training & meetings

20 hours

$482.80

Time attending misc training, seminars, etc.

8 hours

$193.12

Fees, mileage costs, etc.

$150

$150.00

Optional K9 Training

20 hours

$482.80

Team member support

20 hours

$482.80

MINIMUM Costs Be​fore Equipment

76 hours MINIMUM

$1834.64 MINIMUM

In just Sam's first year - before he even goes on his first search - he spends nearly 1000 hours of time worth over $22,000.  And has a 50/50 chance he'll quit before he even gets that far.

It should be noted that these are very conservative estimates.  In my first year in SAR, I spent nearly TWICE as much time training than the above example.

For instance, here are my actual training hours for just my first ten years in search & rescue (yes, I tracked my training activity using THIS).  

First 10 Years of SAR

Training HOURS Spent

MILES Driven for Training

Year 1
1590
14400
Year 2
1156
9600
Year 3
907
6000
Year 4
1073
5000
Year 5
555
2200
Year 6
750
5374
Year 7
1048
7956
Year 8
757
7151
Year 9
430
4800
Year 10
459
1200
AVERAGE      =  
 872 hours PER YEAR
 6370 miles PER YEAR

Sam and other new members like him may spend more or less time on their SAR training compared to the data above.  However, anyway you slice it, the costs to train a new member are enormous and vastly under recognized.

If these teams were businesses, they'd be broke and still short of employees.

So it's easy to see why the burden of time and money breaks the will of many eager SAR prospects, doesn't it?

Therefore, if there's a way to trim 10%, 15% or even 20% percent off of that huge time and expense burden, it should be worth considering.

Solution:
  • The team's training manager selects a customized bundle of online foundation courses for new and prospective members.
  • Instead of spending nights and weekends travelling and attending foundation training and reading through a required reading list, team members progress through the same material on their own time, using any web-enabled device (phone, tablet, computer).  No software to download.
  • The training manager requires the member to hand in a copy of their Certificate of Completion or they log in to monitor the member's progress, see their quiz scores, etc.  The member's transcript is available at any time.
  • The team recoups the enrollment fees by passing some or all of the costs to the new member as part of their application process.  As the above data reveals, the money is already being spent, just less efficiently.
  • Because the online courses deliver the required foundation knowledge, in-person team training is better spent developing the tactical skills the team requires.
  • Parts of the foundation training are automatically repeated and verified each year for existing members to maintain their proficiency and to keep them engaged.
  • The team and its members spend less time building proficiency, spend less money doing so and are more eager to engage, participate and advance.

Now it's your turn.   Scroll down to the bottom and leave a comment with your experience with what it costs to be a volunteer in SAR.

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  • Mike McKenna says:

    How much time and money did YOU spend in your first year of training?

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