What is PNWSAR? What do you do? Can you give me some specifics? Is there anything you don't do? What happens when you are activated? How do you know where to search? How much money would involvement cost me?
Pacific Northwest Search and Rescue (PNWSAR) is an all-volunteer, non-profit 501(c)(3) search and rescue team. We currently have over 100 volunteers of all backgrounds sharing a common goal: dedication to helping people lost or injured out of doors.
PNWSAR team members live throughout the Willamette Valley in Oregon. We are firefighters, business professionals, bartenders, police officers, retirees, medical professionals, teachers, construction workers, and more. Our team is highly skilled in land-based search and rescue techniques, dedicating at least one weekend a month to field training, and thousands of volunteer hours each year on live missions.
We provide highly trained field operations and base support teams for search and rescue. We also maintain a rope support team, an embedded drone team, a mountain bike team, a swiftwater team, an ATV team, and a trail running team that are deployed whenever needed. In addition, we provide support for command post operations, wilderness safety booths at local events, and educational sessions for local community groups.
Our core skills revolve around ground search operations. We focus our training on the development and maintenance of outdoor search and survival skills above and below the timberline. In short, we are ground pounders. A ground pounder is someone who dares to go into the depths of the Pacific Northwest's woods, battling the challenging terrain, weather, and vegetation only the Northwest can provide, while searching for or evacuating people who are lost or injured.
That depends on the type of mission it is. We have two basic types of search and rescue scenarios.
The first type of search, called a pack out, is when we know where the person is and they need our assistance because of a serious illness or injury. When we get a pack-out call, we pack in first aid equipment, a Stokes or Sked litter for transport, and items needed to make the sick or injured person comfortable and safe (dry clothes and blankets, warm drinks and food, etc.). We send a hasty team and medical personnel in to the person's location, administer any necessary first aid, pack them safely into the evacuation litter, and bring them out. This is for serious illness or injury only.
The second type of search is what most people think of when they think of search and rescue: a lost hiker, hunter, child, boater, etc. These searches can be based anywhere from a remote wilderness area to an urban shopping mall. It involves more searchers--often several different search teams--and can last for several days. As searchers arrive at the search base, the Sheriff’s command team directing the search briefs volunteers and provides information about the missing person(s). Searchers are sent out into the field in teams to search specified, high-probability areas. Search days can be 12-15 hours long or more and some searchers will cover as much as 20-30 miles in a day. In certain situations, searchers will camp in the field throughout the night in case the missing person is on the move at night, and PNWSAR often continues actively searching right through the night.
While many people think search and rescue is just about happy reunions, sometimes the outcome is not so jubilant. We occasionally find and recover deceased people, and at times we are called to recover a deceased person who has died by suicide. In addition, we perform evidence searches that can involve unsettling experiences. We do not participate in searches for escaped criminals or known dangerous persons. See our Join Us page for more information on things you should know before joining any search and rescue team.
PNWSAR is committed to resilience support for our unpaid professional responders, and our embedded peer support team is at the forefront of stress injury prevention in volunteer search and rescue nationwide. We continue to innovate ways to ensure our volunteers return to their families and paid jobs as healthy, supported individuals. We’ve invited trainings and advice from leading experts in emotional resilience, stress injury formation, and psychological first aid, and we are eager to share the benefits with our sister search and rescue teams through regional workshops and collaboration. The same principles also help us serve our subjects, helping minimize the lasting effects they will endure from their traumatic experience.
The incident commanders responsible for managing search operations have extensive training in calculating search areas and probabilities. The activating Sheriff's Office is typically responsible for determining search assignments, in conjunction with an investigation of the missing person's report. Starting at the last point the person was known to be, we put teams on the trails and off the trails. We search drainages, rivers, canyons, overhangs, and all of the ground and brush in and around the search perimeter. Multiple teams can search the same area, which gives us a higher probability of detection. This ensures that each and every area is searched completely and thoroughly not only once, but several times.
We conduct night searches as well as day searches. Temperatures drop at night and lost people caught unprepared can be more vulnerable. Our hope is that the missing person is not on the move at night, making it easier for us to find them. A moving target can be more difficult to locate.
We work closely with the authorities and other search teams to maximize the effectiveness of our searches. This includes working with police, trackers, canines, horses, high-angle teams, airplanes, helicopters (military and civilian), Forest Service personnel, and others.
We require a $55 non-refundable application fee when you decide to apply for membership. Upon acceptance onto the team as a Trainee member, this fee covers your first uniform shirt.
We each pay $35 in annual membership dues.
You are responsible for providing your own equipment, fuel, and food on search missions. Check out our Join Us page for our required personal equipment list. Some team equipment such as radios, GPS units, avalanche transceivers, snowshoes, and personal floatation devices are available during searches or training exercises for those that do not have their own.