The very best way to train for SAR is to do SAR; in the absence of actual subjects getting lost, we are more than happy to pretend to be subjects ourselves.
Designing a scenario is tricky. A real SAR task can take 8 to 10 hours. Making a scenario last this long is unrealistic in terms of exhausting team resources, and time commitment. So we usually concentrate on a few aspects of SAR to train on. For a week night, we design the scenario to be complete in two hours or less.
Last night I took the role of SAR Manager for the first time. I’ve been involved in command in the past when I’ve been on the injured list; mostly in the role of radio operator, and jumping in here of there to plot coordinates or fill in assignment sheets. This was the first time I was the “Command” in ICS.
The scenario was this: a SAR member is hiking and comes across another hiker who is injured. She radios in the location of the subject. The first team in goes quickly to find the subject, and carries first aid equipment, and enough to re-warm in case of hypothermia. This established on-scene command, and makes sure the person is where they say they are. Other teams are sent in with the stretcher. The subject is stabilized, packaged, loaded and carried out.
After the scenario we do a debrief, as with a regular task. This is an attempt to identify issues that may have come up during the task. It’s important to not let these turn into self-congratulatory back-slapping sessions, so we get pretty critical. Radio communications, span of control, first aid; all of these are mentioned. My issue was trying to recall who was certified as a Ground Search Team Leader, and dealing with the right way to delegate.