The Different Types of Search and Rescue

Posted by Tiffany Leis on

The Different Types of Search and Rescue

Imagine: it’s a beautiful, sunny day, and you decide to go on a leisurely hike through your local forest preserve. The first hour of your hike goes off without a hitch. You’re basking in the beauty of nature all around you—the towering trees in full bloom, a flock of happily chirping birds, and the distant sound of a roaring river. There’s just one minor problem: you’re so enthralled with your surroundings that you stop paying attention to where you’re walking and wander off the beaten path. Before you know it, you’re lost in a gnarled, dimly lit section of the forest. The pathways have faded away, and there’s no other way to tell where you originally came from. You decide to carry on, hoping that there’s some indication of civilization nearby that can set you back on the right path. Unfortunately, you wind up getting even more lost in the process. It’s at this point that you start to wonder: am I going to have to spend the rest of my life trying to survive in the wilderness?

This type of situation is far more common than you may think. There isn’t a day that goes by without someone getting lost—in the big, bustling city, a creepy forest, or the vast sea. But just because these people lose their way doesn’t mean they’re doomed. Search and rescue teams worldwide dedicate themselves to helping people who need help getting out of precarious situations. There are many different types of search and rescue. Depending on the type of terrain the search involves and the type of immediate danger that the person is in, the specific type of search and rescue and the techniques they employ during the mission can differ. In this comprehensive guide to SAR, we’ll explain everything you need to know about the different types of search and rescue missions and some of the techniques professionals use during the search and rescue process.

What Is Search and Rescue? What Are the Different Types?

In general, the goal of search and rescue is to help people who need help. When people are in distress or immediate danger, a search and rescue group may be able to locate them and provide the necessary aid.

The many specialty sub-fields of search and rescue include ground (lowland) rescue, mountain rescue, urban rescue in cities, combat rescue on the battlefield, and even maritime and air-sea rescue. Let’s examine some of the most common types of search and rescue missions and what they entail.

Ground (Lowland) Rescue

Ground rescue, also known as lowland rescue, involves searching for lost or distressed people somewhere on land. The reasons a search and rescue team may be necessary can vary. People will often go missing voluntarily, often due to problems at home, but they can also disappear involuntarily for a number of reasons. Typically, local law enforcement will carry out this kind of search and rescue mission. Many areas will also have voluntary search and rescue teams to assist police officers during the search.

Mountain Rescue

This type of search and rescue takes place in areas with rugged and mountainous terrain. It often involves locating people who became trapped during a caving or mountain climbing expedition, usually due to rubble or broken equipment. Authorities also use it to locate people lost in caves. The layouts of most caves are largely undocumented, which makes it easy for adventurers to lose their way. In situations like these, rescuers will use climbing ropes to navigate the cave or mountainside, locate the person who needs rescuing, and bring them back to safety.

Urban Rescue

The term “urban rescue” might sound a bit misleading—despite the name, urban rescue isn’t a handy service available to people who are struggling to find their way around an unfamiliar city. Even if someone were genuinely lost in the city, a mission that involved locating them would fall more into the category of ground (lowland) search and rescue.

Urban search and rescue actually involves locating and rescuing people from collapsed buildings and other common urban or industrial entrapments. It’s an incredibly specialized type of search and rescue that requires multidisciplinary teams. These teams typically consist of law enforcement officers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians. During an urban search and rescue mission, responders rescue the people who are immediately visible to them first. After that, groups of rescuers and trained search dogs begin searching for people trapped under debris. In many cases, urban search and rescue teams will use specialized cameras that allow them to see beneath the rubble. Most urban search and rescue missions take place in the aftermath of earthquakes and other natural disasters.

Combat Rescue

Another of the different types of search and rescue is combat rescue, which is necessary during times of war. The main goal of combat search and rescue is to locate and rescue soldiers and civilians who have become lost or injured on the battlefield or within close vicinity of active combat zones.

Maritime Rescue

A maritime search and rescue mission seeks to save sailors and passengers in distress or the survivors of a downed aircraft or sinking vessel. Depending on the country the mission takes place in, maritime search and rescue missions may involve the coast guard, navy, or even voluntary organizations. Once the team has located the aircraft or vessel, helicopters and rescue vessels retrieve the survivors and transport them safely back to land.

An air-sea rescue is similar to maritime search and rescue in that its primary goal is to rescue people trapped at sea. The main difference between the two is that air-sea rescue involves the combined use of aircraft, such as flying boats, floatplanes, and helicopters, and surface vessels to reach and retrieve the people who require aid.

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The Different Types of Search and Rescue

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