SAR Fundamentals/Hazards


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[edit] Subject

What is this lesson plan about?

This section is about making decisions around risky situations.

It builds on the understanding of hazards that the students have previously developed.

This section could potential by renamed "Handling Risk".

[edit] Authors

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Brett Wuth

[edit] Scope

What is included in this lesson, what's not and why.

SAR Fundamentals Manual: Ch.8 "Problems Associated with Specific SAR Environments"
Basic SAR Skills Manual:
  • Ch.9 "Environmental Hazards in SAR"
  • Ch.10 "Animal, Insect, Snake Hazards"

The above material is assigned readings. This lesson plan builds on it.

[edit] Prerequisites

What should students already know/have accomplished before the lesson is presented.

The students should already have completed the assigned reading.

[edit] Objectives

At the conclusion of this lesson the participants should be able to

  1. describe how to assess a hazard
  2. describe general strategies for dealing with risk
  3. identify common local hazards and risks
  4. describe prefered strategies to deal with common risks

[edit] Time Plan

Total Time: 30 minutes

Time Material


3 min

Introduce topic title

Introduce Instructor

Present Objectives


Local Hazards

Lead a discussion of the hazards SAR workers might encounter in our area. Write on flip chart.'

Some examples:

  • cliffs
  • swift water
  • avalanche
  • ice
  • extreme cold
  • bears
  • becoming isolated


Which are hazards you'd have known about before leaving the CP?

Which are hazards you might only discover in the field?

Circle examples


For one or more of the examples, discuss what the risk could be with the hazard. Might have to make the example more concrete with specific details.

What are the worst case scenarios associated with the risk?

  • Discomfort?
  • Damage to equipment?
  • Injury?
  • Death?

What is the likelihood of these consequences?

Risk = Impact x Probability


What are the consequences of not facing the hazard?

Not your emergency. We don't have to face personal risks, like we would if was.

A dead subject is no longer an emergency.

Risk vs. Benefit


We need you to do the opposite of what your body is telling you to do.

Adrenaline poisoning

  • fight or flight

We need you to use your brain

  • S - Stop
  • T - Think
  • O - Observe
  • P - Plan

Who decides?

Both you and your supervisor can decide the risk is too high for the benefit.

Team in the field has the most detailed information about the hazard.

Overhead team has big picture.

Talk to your Team Leader. Talk to the Command Post.


List the 4 categories

  • Avoid
    • withdraw from the situation
      • Don't send our team into an avalanche environment
    • remove the risk
      • Have the rancher move his buffalo to another field
  • Reduce
    • mitigate the risk
      • carry avalanche equipment
      • have avalanche tech assess and plan route
      • train in avalanche techniques
  • Share
    • ask someone else to do for us
      • bring in a specialty team, technician
      • Technical personnel should be used for technical rescue [Search and Rescue Fundamentals manual Page 99]
    • insurance
      • WCB
  • Accept (Retention)
    • cross the river

[Dorfman, Mark S. (2007). Introduction to Risk Management and Insurance (9 ed.). Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-224227-3. Taken from]

Have students give examples of each category that bring out the sub strategies

Other types of risks

beside the hazards of the environment.

Risks to the Subject

  • unsafe rescue techniques
  • untrained medical interventions
    • medications

Risks to others

Our rescue techniques create new risks.

Most technical rescues transform but do not eliminate the risk. They move it to an area where there shouldn't be exposure.

By having untrained people or bystanders around, they may be exposed to risk.

Example: Rope rescue uses the ropes to reduce risk of falling, but if there's an equipment failure people standing in an otherwise safe area may get swept over the cliff.

Stay away unless specifically directed to help.

Risk of making the Search Harder

  • scent contamination
  • untrained tracking

Legal Risks

  • exceeding authority
  • exceeding scope of practice

Specialty Teams

What are some of the specialty teams that could be brought in?

Use list of hazards from before

  • higher medical training
  • transportation
    • helicopter
    • snowmobile
  • rope rescue
  • swift water rescue
  • ice rescue
  • fish & wildlife
  • police
  • animal control

Which teams could be part of a SAR group? Which are outside the mandate of a SAR group?

Doing it yourself

Accepting the risk.

Some SAR workers have unrecognized skills. We ask SAR workers to know how to improvise.

"A little knowledge is a dangerous thing."

"What you don't know, will kill you."

The single greatest problem is that responders underestimate the hazard. [Search and Rescue Fundamentals manual, Page 102]

Discuss with Team Leader and Command Post. Err on the side of caution.

Common triggers

At what point should you stop and evaluate the risk?

Request specialty team. Ask for overhead decision.

Review hazards identified earlier. Give your thoughts on those risks. Expand to include the following guidelines.

general guidelines:

  • cliffs
    • no closer than 2 meters of 2 meter fall
  • other hazards with defined, unmoving boundary
    • no closer than 2 meters
    • swift water
  • moving subject on slope
    • 20 degrees
    • hand on hip, elbow angle technique
    • other situations where consequences of slip are severe
  • avalanche
    • don't enter area without equipment and risk assessment
  • ice
    • avoid if possible
    • cross only good, clear, solid ice: 5 cm walking, 13 cm snowmobile
  • extreme cold, wind chill
    • individual assessment of adequacy of clothing, starts at +10C
  • bears
    • recent sign
  • isolation
    • individual assessment of skills
    • train to 24 hr

[edit] Aids

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[edit] Question bank

List of questions suitable for an review/exam of this section.

See Question bank

[edit] Frequently Asked Questions

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Q: How should you respond if you encounter a wolverine?

A: Wolverines are 9-25 kg, max 32. They have been known to prey on animals as large as moose, but more often are carrion eaters. Don't disturb its kill. Give it a wide berth. If it's attacking you, presume it's prey behaviour and fight back.

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[edit] License

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Copyright © 2013, Brett Wuth.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 Canada License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA.

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[edit] Notes

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