CATSAR SEARCH TEAM GUIDELINES
These guidelines are designed to help CATSAR members better understand how search teams can operate safely and efficiently. Whether you've had limited experience being sent out on an assignment, or have been on more missions than you can remember, following these guidelines will help prevent some of the difficulties that can arise when teams are faced with an unexpected situation and/or stress that can happen on a search.
After checking in (please PRINT name) for a mission, there will usually be some time before you meet with Incident Command to get a search assignment. Use this time to make sure you have all the necessary gear ready, get your GPS up and running (the first coordinates you enter should be the Base Camp location), record any subject info that may be posted, and decide what kind of an assignment you are most suited for - a vehicle team (typically ATV or 4WD), ground team, or some other activity, like assisting with transportation, communications, etc. - based on your experience, abilities, and equipment. Search Teams will almost always include at least two members and usually three or four. Incident Command, when creating and assigning teams, may ask for candidates with specific skills or equipment to join together, but it's not uncommon for Incident Command to rely on the responding SAR group to attend a briefing with the team already composed. Once you are assigned to a team and get instructions on your search, the time has arrived to observe the following guidelines:
- Team members should decide on a team leader if one hasn't already been appointed by Incident Command. This person is responsible for making decisions in the absence of directions from Incident Command. Other team members acknowledge that, while they are free to offer input and advice, they are obligated to respect the leader's decisions. The primary responsibility of the team is to stay together and function as a team.
- The Team Leader should confirm that team members have the necessary gear and equipment required by their search assignment - radio, GPS unit, maps, water/food, extra batteries, etc. All team members with 2-way VHF radios should perform a radio check with Base Communications before leaving the staging area to ascertain they are on the correct frequency and their equipment is operating properly.
- The Team Leader should review the particulars of their search assignment with team members, even if it means repeating the instructions already received from Incident Command, so there is no confusion about where they are headed and what will be happening along the way. This is the time for anyone who needs clarification on operating procedures to speak up and get any questions answered.
- If the team has enough members, it is suggested that one team member be designated to handle communications with Incident Command, another to be responsible for continuous operation of a GPS unit and obtaining necessary coordinates, and a third to keep a written record of the transmitted instructions and coordinates. Sharing the work will help prevent anyone from being overwhelmed. Smaller teams may require members to assume more than one function.
- When on an assignment (including returning to base when recalled), team members should always remain in visual contact with at least one other team member. Sometimes terrain or darkness can prevent this, in which case it is imperative that audio contact replace the lack of visual contact. Audio contact can be easily maintained if each team member, in addition to the VHF radio used for SAR communications, also carries a small 2-way FRS radio for intra-team communications on a previously decided channel. By using the FRS radios you won't be creating traffic on the SAR frequency, which may be needed for more important communications. Teams without FRS radios can still maintain audio contact with a whistle or other noise-making device, and as a last resort, by shouting loudly at regular intervals.
- After a team is through with an assignment and before checking out, the Team Leader should hold a short debriefing session with each team member offered an opportunity to evaluate how well they functioned as a team. This debriefing is separate from any questions that Incident Command may have at the assignment's completion. If things went smoothly, this debriefing can be over in a minute. If there were difficulties, now is the time to address them so corrections can be made before the next search. It’s not about assigning blame; it’s learning from our mistakes and improving future performance.
- Make sure you and everybody on your team has checked out before leaving for home.