The MSAR Search Pack

MSAR members must acquire gear to be qualified to respond to searches; a “24 hour pack” or emergency response pack. All team members are required to carry the same set of items, so we always know what our resources are. A 24 hour pack provides all of the supplies necessary for survival for 24 hours.

Backpack – The 24 hour pack should be both comfortable and low profile with a hip belt, an internal frame (or frameless) design, durable, weather resistant, and relatively light-weight.

Breakdown by essential systems:

Protection from environment: The pack itself (protects gear); clothing/boots/gaiters/gloves/raingear/helmet/goggles, as needed; sunglasses, sunscreen, bug spray. Also, tarp, space blanket, trash bag, duct tape, rope (to help make a shelter, protect a person, or collect rainwater). Personal medications and first-aid supplies, including blister prevention (the most common ailment for hikers).

Navigation: compass & map (preferably topographical); notebook & pen (to record information), wristwatch (to time distances covered, take a pulse-rate or keep track of medical symptoms and interventions); GPS unit (not to be depended upon, since either battery power or reception may fail).

Illumination: headlamp (leaves hands free), flashlight, candles.

Communication (in addition to the human voice): whistle, cellphone, radio, extra batteries

Detection (by other personnel): whistle, flagging tape, high-visibility vest.

Combustion (for warming, cooking or signalling): lighter, matches (storm-proof), magnesium rod or flint

Hydration: water (2 liters minimum) and water purification.

Nutrition: high-calorie, balanced easily prepared non-perishable food

Elimination: trowel/toilet paper.

Other Considerations (making a fire, rigging a hauling system, wrapping a subject, etc.): knife, caribiners, Prusik loop, tubular webbing, paracord

Posted in New Member, SAR, SAR Training | Leave a comment

Ten Essentials

Ten Essentials

There are many 10 essential lists. Each outdoor company, outdoor group, camp, etc. has developed their own version. If you are unsure, do research into your desired activity and create a reasonable list of items you should bring with you into the wilderness.

1. Map

2. Compass

3. Sun protection (sunglasses/sunscreen)

4. Food

5. Water

6. Clothing – and extra clothes (appropriate for possible weather conditions)

7. Headlamp and/or flashlight (don’t forget to check your batteries)

8. First Aid kit

9. Fire starter – lighter, matches, magnesium bar, etc.

10. Knife

The 10 essentials can vary and may require additional items depending on circumstances: for whitewater rafting, bring a personal flotation device; for a diabetic or a person with a cardiac problem, bring your personal medications; for deep powder, bring snowshoes.

Before you go out… Make sure you are familiar with the tools you bring and think about what you might need for your planned trip and beyond!

Posted in New Member, SAR, SAR Training | Leave a comment

What is it like to go on a SAR mission?

To pick up where we left off… MSAR members are alerted to an emergency, arrive on scene and sign in.

At the search base, which may be in a field, at a fire department, or even in the front yard of the missing person’s house, trained searchers coordinate with groups such as law enforcement, fire department, EMS, and local volunteers to carry out the search effort. Some members may join the Incident Staff, but most want to be deployed into the field.

There are many jobs to be done at base, for those trained in incident staff and for those willing to learn. Incident staff must make plans to consider the missing person(s), their state of mind, the terrain, the weather, and a number of other factors necessary to lead teams to the right search area. Incident staff must also be mindful of safety for all searchers, arrange finances and logistics to support the mission, and work with the public and the press.

Those who want be utilized in the field must be assigned to a search task. There are many types of tasks (that I will talk about in a later blog entry) but more often than not, 4-6 team members will be tasked to search an area of woods or down a trail.

If a person is found, they may require medical assistance and/or evacuation depending on the type of incident that has occurred. Most MSAR search team members have some sort of medical training (often with the added wilderness protocols); (Wilderness) First aid, (Wilderness) First Responder, and (Wilderness) EMT. MSAR is also prepared for both manual "carry outs," semi-tech and technical rescue, and assisting with aerial helicopter-based rescues.

After the task is over, searchers return to base and must decide on their next move. Some will be immediately retasked, some will need time to eat and sleep, and the rest will be done for the day. Most searches wrap up within a few days, but can go on for extended periods of time. As volunteers, MSAR members may assist for as long as they wish.

Posted in New Member, SAR | Leave a comment

How does Maryland Search and Rescue respond to SARs?

This is how a “typical” SAR starts:

1. Predictably when people go missing, no one is really worried until it is dark out. Once you add the element of darkness to factors such as:

· failing to come home as expected
· failing to answer the phone
· failing to be home for dinner

…the family/significant other will call 911.

2. The police/park ranger/emergency responder will be dispatched to the scene and take look around. They do a fast and efficient search (which often results in a find ending the process).

3. If they do not make a quick find, responders will typically do one of the following:

· Wait on the search and do a larger investigation – something’s fishy
· Wait to start any action until daylight – It is easier to find something when you can see it
· Get more searchers on scene ASAP – the person needs immediate help due to health/weather/etc.

4. Once the emergency responder decides that they need additional help they will notify their dispatcher who will send out a request for additional resources. Depending on the scenario, they may call for one or all of the following:

· Others within the initial responder’s agency
· Other nearby government agencies with a memorandum of understanding
· Resources from a number of local approved volunteer SAR teams (like Maryland Search and Rescue)

5. Maryland Search and Rescue gets the call at 3 AM. Well, not always at 3 AM, but usually. Why 3 AM?

· Like you can see above, the initial responder(s) get on scene after dark/after dinner, they do preliminary searches and interviews and then call for additional resources.
· Those SAR resources either need to be there to search ASAP, or to be sent out into the field at first light. Either way, we wake up to that phone call, figure out who will be responding, and coordinate rides to the search.
· We then drive to the missing person’s home, the last place they were seen, a local church, the local fire department, or wherever the SAR can be conveniently managed.

6. MSAR members drive through the night and arrive to the Search.

· MSAR members sign in at base and wait to be deployed into the field
· If there is time we get a little sleep before search operations start in the morning


Next time I will discuss: What it is like on a SAR mission

Posted in SAR | Leave a comment

What to expect at your first meeting?

Maryland Search and Rescue meets in the fellowship hall (Boxed in red) of Mt. Zion United Methodist Church 12430 Scaggsville Rd, Highland, MD 20777.

There are two ways into the Fellowship hall (circled in yellow)

  • Go though the double wooden doors found in middle of the building. Go though the wooden doors and walk down the set of stairs. The double doors to the fellowship hall will be on your right.
  • Walk down the sidewalk to the covered entryway (this door may be locked seasonally).

Meetings start at 7:00 PM and end at 9:00. The first half of the meeting is for business and the second half is training. During the business portion of the meeting, we will discuss recent and upcoming events such as training weekends, fundraisers and searches. The training portion of the meeting may be in the fellowship hall or somewhere on the grounds of the church (either way check in at the fellowship hall there will be someone there).

During the meeting it is customary to recognize any new visitors. You may be asked to give your name, where you work or go to school, how you heard of MSAR, why you are interested in SAR, who your favorite muppet is, etc. If you prefer, you can have someone introduce you to the group (just be sure you talk to someone before the meeting).

Tips for new members:

  • Bring a friend or family member with you
  • Seek out a Search Sim (Simulation) to see what MSAR is all about
  • Talk to multiple members about their experiences and interests (each member does SAR for a different reason)
  • Join us for the next training weekend
  • Borrow gear or get suggestions about what to purchase for MSAR events
  • Don’t be intimidated, we all made it past our first meeting
  • Find the right SAR team for you – If MSAR is not the right fit… ask about other local teams
  • Follow the MSAR twitter @MarylandSAR account for updates about meeting cancellations or changes (We try to follow the Howard County Schools emergency weather closures)
  • Ask about other people who have joined recently and become training partners
  • Find out ways for you to get more involved
  • If you plan on purchasing gear, talk to multiple members about options

At the end of the meeting be sure to get the paperwork necessary in order to join. As you fill out the paperwork take a chance to talk with members and ask questions!

Posted in New Member | 2 Comments


Welcome to Maryland Search and Rescue’s first blog entry.

As I started my day today, I looked over SAR related Tweets and came across a few from @SARInnovations. While I am not familiar with the company (yet), they are a local Maryland business, and it is likely that I have run across the founder, Brian Wagner, in the field or in training.

Brian makes a good point about the importance of documenting your SAR training.  I have been Volunteering with Maryland Search and Rescue for 15 years, and I wish I had kept better records.  Like in other professional realms if it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.

Whether you are looking to get into SAR or if you have been involved for years… do yourself a favor, document and track your trainings and experience.  Do not rely on others to do it for you!

Hold on to (and make a digital copy of)…

  • Training records
  • Task assignment forms
  • Certificates
  • Skill check off sheets
  • Awards
  • Training handouts
  • Descriptions of attended trainings
  • Training calendars
  • Notes on SAR missions
  • A list of people who can vouch for you

The further you go in SAR, the more proof you need.

Posted in SAR | Leave a comment