The MVSAR ground team is used for all search activities for which MVSAR is deployed. In order to be eligible to go into the field on searches, we require our members to have appropriate gear as mandated by the state SAR certification exam.
We also provide training in subjects such as
Map and Compass Usage
Incident Command System
Hiking and Wilderness Survival
Dogs are used in search and rescue because of their superior sense of smell, which is thousands or millions of times more sensitive than that of human beings. Dogs also can maneuver across rugged terrain more efficiently than humans can, so they make excellent partners for search and rescue.
The MVSAR dogs locate missing subjects using two different techniques. Some dogs are trained in air scenting, where they smell the person’s scent as it is carried through the air by breezes or wind. Others focus on trailing, where they smell a person’s scent that they left behind on the ground as they were walking. Both techniques require hundreds of hours of training to be reliable, and are used in both wilderness and water search and rescue situations.
Our dogs are trained by their owners/handlers, and are their pets first and foremost. MVSAR does not have breed restrictions - any dog is welcome to come and give search and rescue a try - although certain breeds tend to be more inclined for scent work. We also require basic obedience skills, and drive and eagerness to learn. A Canine Good Citizen certification is a plus. Physical fitness is as important for our dogs as it is for their handlers, thus we emphasize proper diet, nutrition, and plenty of exercise for our canine companions.
We train every Sunday morning, and take turns setting up practice scenarios where people and their dogs look for a “lost person” that we’ve hidden in the desert or another wilderness location. It can take a year or longer get a dog to the point of being mission-ready, depending on the innate abilities of the dog and the amount of time people put into training.
The dog handlers also have to follow the general guidelines for the team, so there is a list of gear we need to have before we can go out in the field. We also have a basic skill set that we’d like all of our team members to acquire, such as map and compass reading, GPS orienteering, basic search skills, knowledge of the Incident Command System, and First Aid/CPR.
A small team on ATV’s can cover a great deal of terrain quickly, shuttle personnel to and from search areas, and provide support to our ground and dog teams. As with searchers on horseback, an ATV rider can stand while riding to gain a higher view of the search area. The unique vantage point of an ATV rider can be used to take in broad vistas to quickly assess a large area, or can be exploited to study the ground for possible signs of tracks.
As with any search and rescue discipline, safety and training are the key to the successful use of ATV’s in the field. With this in mind we conduct regular rides in the field for training, focusing on vehicle familiarization, technical riding skills, and search techniques.
One of the many tools Search and Rescue teams in the field must have to perform effectively and safely is the ability to communicate with Incident Base, both on small-area urban searches and over long distances in remote wilderness areas. The MVSAR Communication Team provides radio communication training to all MVSAR team members, and has the training and equipment necessary to set up and operate a mobile high-power base station to communicate with multiple teams. MVSAR’s multi-purpose enclosed trailer, when not being used to haul team equipment, converts to a roomy, well-lighted, heated, air-conditioned communication center equipped with radios and antennas operating on SAR and Amateur (ham) Radio frequencies. A large gasoline-powered generator allows operation for long-duration missions.
MVSARs newest team uses small Unmanned Aircraft Systems, UAS (more commonly known as drones), as a search and rescue tool. To operate a UAS for search and rescue missions, a remote pilot certificate is required. Training exercises are conducted regularly with the other MVSAR teams to improve familiarity with the new technology. Unmanned aircraft provide the ability to easily cover large areas in a fraction of the time ground based assets would need, freeing up valuable resources for other areas. These aircraft are extremely portable, giving search teams deployed in the field the ability to check difficult or impassable terrain thus reducing risk to searchers.