How does Search And Rescue operate in New Mexico?
Unlike most other states, New Mexico has the Search and Rescue Act, a state law which governs how SAR activities operate. Search missions in New Mexico follow the Incident Command system and the NM State Police employ a State Resource Officer in Santa Fe, the only paid SAR position, to coordinate SAR activities statewide. Reporting to the SRO are Area Commanders who are responsible for overseeing Field Coordinators throughout the state. Field Coordinators are the ones responsible for directing a search mission. Individual SAR groups around New Mexico consist of volunteers who have organized themselves to respond to missions. Each group operates independently and with their own internal guidelines, membership requirements, and areas of specialization. The New Mexico Search & Rescue Services Council (www.nmsarc.org) serves as an umbrella organization to serve the needs of the SAR organizations in New Mexico, and holds an annual 3-day gathering each May to offer courses and certifications in various SAR related topics. NMSARC also holds classes around the state a few times a year for SAR members to become trained Field Coordinators and Section Chiefs as well as providing expert instruction on certain technical SAR skills.
When a person is reported lost or needs rescue from non-urban areas, a local State Police Officer is assigned to investigate and determine if a search effort is warranted. If so, the missing person now becomes the "subject" and a Search Mission number is assigned (a six digit number: first two are the year, second two are the State Police District, third two indicate the number of missions so far in the district - for example, 06-11-05 would be the fifth mission of 2006 in District 11). Only the State Police can initiate a mission and assign a mission number. Only when there is an assigned mission number can CCSAR respond to a search.
Once a mission has been initiated, the NMSP District dispatcher will notify the closest Field Coordinator to the search area who is on call. The Field Coordinator assumes the title of Incident Commander when a mission is assigned and then calls in the resources needed to begin search operations. Resources can include search teams who operate on foot (aka ground pounders), on horseback, with ATVs or snowmobiles, and if necessary, the NMSP helicopter (aka ABLE 6). CATSAR is called out mainly for ground pounder searches, although several of our members can bring ATVs if needed. CATSAR members can provide a horse team upon request of the Incident Commander, with the care and maintenance of the horses and trailer at the members expense.
The Incident Commander will usually establish a Base Camp, called Incident Base, near the search area and this Base Camp is where CATSAR responders will be directed to go when our group receives a call-out. Depending on the particular mission, CATSAR may be the first team to arrive at Incident Base or sometimes may arrive during an ongoing search to supplement or relieve other teams already there. The Incident Commander is typically assisted by a one or more Section Chiefs, who are trained to handle logistics, planning, operations and communications at Base Camp so the Incident Commander can focus on managing search efforts without distraction.
At Incident Base, CATSAR responders will check in, receive more information about the subject, and report to the Incident Commander or a Section Chief for a field assignment. Responders unable to assume field assignments may be utilized for other duties around the Base Camp. Depending on how long it takes to locate the subject and how many resources are available for the search, a responder may spend several hours (most likely) to a few days (rare) on the mission. As volunteers, no responder is obligated to stay longer than he or she is willing. When the mission is over or you decide to leave, whichever comes first, you will sign out and return home. Checking in and out is very important as it establishes your eligibility for insurance coverage by the state traveling to and from the mission as well as qualifying you for fuel cost reimbursement when you submit the appropriate forms.