SAR Expertise doesn’t come free

SAR Expertise doesn’t come free

As a SAR volunteer with over a decade’s worth of experience, from time to time I get asked for my opinion about things related to Search and Rescue, technology, SAR operations, and the intersection between them. It’s not unexpected, in this blog I write almost about those topics all the time, and my real life job is writing software.

These requests often come in the form of surveys with questions, or interviews. Sometimes they’re just conversations at conferences, or informal meetings. Most often they come via the contact forms on the various SAR web sites I manage.

Now I am all about helping out the SAR cause – it’s why I volunteer after all.

However, just because I volunteer for SAR it doesn’t mean my time, or my expertise is free.

I’m tired of for profit companies approaching SAR groups and asking for our expertise for free.

TrueNorth Geospatial

More accurately, I’m especially tired of the one-way flow of information in these interactions. If you’re so keen on developing SAR technology, why don’t I ever see any results?

Many times these groups contact us with the attitude that they will somehow be doing us a favour by developing some form of technology to make SAR easier or safer. There seems to be an assumption that we should be grateful for this request, or somehow THEY are helping US. They never start off by asking if they could pay for our expertise. They never offer to donate to the team. And we never see anything that they’ve developed. Our input usually just vanished, without so much as a thank-you.

This, frankly, is insulting. If our expertise is worth asking for, it’s worth paying for. Even a token amount.

It gets worse. I go to conferences and talk about the issues we have locating lost people, and someone will always pipe up and tell me about the incredible technology they’ve been developing at their university, technical collage, or company and how it can save lives. Often I find that either this technology is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars (putting it out of reach of any SAR group) or has never been tested in the field. I’m not talking about things I heard about last year – these are things I heard about that were developed over a decade ago. Never been used on a SAR task that I can tell. What a WASTE!

I am fed up with this – if you can’t offer a practical, deployable and affordable solution, it’s just fiction.

My appeal to companies, institutions, and researchers is simple. If you are developing or considering starting a project to assist SAR, involve us, tap into our expertise, but do so by respecting that our time is valuable and worth paying for. And make the results available to us!


Approach Search and Rescue groups as partners.

We’re volunteers, but many of us have decades of experience in this field – something that you can’t find anywhere else. We also have regular jobs in addition to running a SAR team and rescuing people – this makes our time incredibly valuable.

As mentioned above, just because we volunteer our time to community service does not mean we’re going to donate our time to your profit making enterprise unless there’s some advantage conferred on the individual or the team. This could take the form of publicizing our good work, a small contribution of goods, services or a cash donation.

Academics and students consider actually involving SAR groups early in any project, and consider actually testing that project in the field. Allocate funds to pay for the SAR team’s costs. Credit the SAR team in any research you publish. Consider the value of using your million dollar tech to save a life and the publicity this can generate for you.

And please, stop sending me useless surveys. I’m not filling them in. They are, without exception, badly designed and won’t give you any useful information.

3 Comments on “SAR Expertise doesn’t come free

  1. Hey Mike! Excellent article, thanks! Some time ago, before the recent change in SARVAC governance, there was a Committee that attempted to coordinate field testing of products and services from vendors. The idea being that they would match their Product or service with a SAR Team that, by virtue of their mandate, was best suited to do the testing! The testing process was to be monitored and documented for the benefit of All! I still think this could work, I’m no longer in a position to lobby this, but you are! I was the chair at the time and wasn’t able to make it happen! We were officiously disbanded, and have been in the penalty box ever since! Why don’t you try a similar thing? Keep up the good work Mike! Cheers! Alan Thomas

  2. Nice to hear from you Alan.
    It’s certainly a good idea, as a SAR insider would be able to recommend the group that would be most able to handle any given request. Like a brokerage. Of course it could lead to hurt feelings – there’s still a few huge egos out there.

    • Hey Mike!
      Absolutely, and I think this process would work well as well for the Vendors as for the teams. It might get some needed kit to the teams that have small budgets.


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