Santa Fe Search and Rescue
By Paul McClendon, K5PMC
New Mexico's statewide system of over 1000 Search and Rescue
(SAR) volunteers is recognized nationally as one of the premier
SAR organization in the country and has become a model for
other states to follow. There are approximately 80 recognized
Search and Rescue Groups in New Mexico. These groups include
ground pounders or foot search teams, horse teams, tracking
dog teams, 4 wheel, ATV and snowmobile groups, technical rescue
teams and, as you might suppose, communications groups.
In our area are two communication groups, the New Mexico
SAR Support Group out of Albuquerque and closer to home the
Los Alamos Amateur Radio Club or as it is better known, CD-1.
During almost every mission in the Sangre de Cristos or Jemez
Mountains you will hear CD-1 using Call sign W5PDO providing
longer range communications as well as relay services from
their "shack" in Los Alamos. When requested they
also try to provide mobile communications in support of the
Incident Base, the field operations center for a search.
Wilderness Search and Rescue in New Mexico, by state statute,
has become the responsibility of the New Mexico State Police.
There is one paid employee, James Newberry, who is the Search
and Rescue Resource Officer. There is also a Search and Rescue
Review Board, which monitors certain activities and makes
recommendations to the Chief of the State Police, who has
the final responsibility for all actions.
After a report of a lost or missing person is made a specially
trained State Police Officer in the District determines if
there is a need for a search and rescue effort rather than
a for law enforcement situation. Once the decision is made
to employ search and rescue, the District Dispatcher notifies
the Field Coordinator who is on call for that week, who then
becomes the Incident Commander (IC) of the Search and Rescue
Mission. This IC will then select his Base Support staff,
location for the Incident Base as well as what teams they
want to initially respond.
Santa Fe Search and Rescue Group or Santa Fe SAR as it is
more commonly known dates back to 1994 when Dave Burdett (W2SAR)
was asked to form a Search and Rescue Group in the Eldorado
area. Since those formative days the Santa Fe SAR has grown
to a group of over 40 members from throughout the greater
Santa Fe area.
Santa Fe SAR is composed primarily of teams of ground pounders
who are equipped and able to go out for periods exceeding
24 hours in any kind of weather. In the winter this might
involve teams on skis or snowshoes. Specialties in addition
to the ground pounders include a Technical Rescue Team with
the ropes, litter and other equipment to evacuate an injured
subject in low to medium angle environments (up to 60 degree
slopes). Other specialties include 4-wheel drive searching
and also a food service team.
As you might expect communications and especially Amateur
Radio play a big part in the search and rescue effort. In
Santa Fe SAR, we now have 8 licensed HAMs and have another
group of 11 who are starting to study for their no code Technician
license. These soon to be Hams have seen what those of us
who are Hams can do beyond the normal commercial frequency
operations and have decided that Amateur Radio is for them.
Some of them are thinking beyond SAR and to make serious hobby
of the effort.
I'd like to be able to say that all missions start on a sunny
Sunday morning and every one is home by the time "60
Minutes" is on but it does not happen that way. Most
call outs are in the evening, can last all night and in any
kind of weather. Since this District is comprised of Santa
Fe and Los Alamos Counties our missions usually involve rough
mountainous terrains therefore the need for the 4-wheel drive.
Probably 75% of the missions are in the Pecos Canyon or based
at the Santa Fe Ski area.
Generally, the first 12-hour operational period will prove
successful and the lost person(s) will be returned to safety.
However there are those occasions that require a longer effort
to which a more experienced Incident Commander and Base Staff
usually respond. These volunteers may come from anywhere in
the state. This is where New Mexico's' Incident Command System
and common radio system comes to the fore as we have the same
training state wide as well as common radio frequencies. Many
other states have a county-by-county SAR system that creates
barriers rather than the efficiency of our statewide system.
Communications plays a very important part in this statewide
system and besides being able to use to some extent the State
Police systems, the Amateur 2 meter repeaters around the state
are used on almost every mission. This state wide system also
gives SAR the direct access to other state resources such
as the National Guard and their helicopters. The Search and
Rescue community in this area is indebted to the Santa Fe
Amateur Radio Club and its' members for the installation and
maintenance of the 147.300 and 146.820 MHz repeaters. The
repeaters, on Elk Mountain and Tesuque Peak, come in to play
in about 80% of the missions in the Santa Fe District as well
as many in the Las Vegas District.
If there was enough interest, Santa Fe Amateur Radio Club
could become a recognized SAR communications resource with
a call out procedure for those members interested in responding
to a search mission. This would be a no cost-strictly volunteer
arrangement and I might mention that any person activated
is under a state insurance program. Some volunteers limit
their working area to only the local District while others
are willing to travel statewide. If becoming a recognized
SAR resource is just not what Santa Fe Amateur Radio Club
would like to do at this time, interested individuals would
be welcome to join the Santa Fe Search and Rescue Group as
Those with an interest might contact radio club President
Alden Oyer (AG5S) or either
Paul McClendon (K5PMC)
at 983-8748 or Steve
Crawford (K5SDC) at 466-3722.
In closing Santa Fe SAR and the whole SAR community in the
Santa Fe area is deeply indebted to the Santa Fe Amateur Radio
Club for the construction and maintenance of the Elk Mountain
and Tesuque Peak repeaters. There is no question in our mind
that these repeaters have saved lives.