Search Protocols

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This document is intended to provide general guidelines and protocols for TBSAR searchers to use while performing search and rescue operations. These are recommendations and should be tailored to fit individual situations, search grids, and conditions.


  • Skis are efficient for downhill travel, and no more efficient than snowshoes for sidehill or contour travel.
  • Breaking trail should be done as a group, there is no efficiency to having all individuals breaking their own trail.
  • Breaking trail while side-hilling is the worst.

Keep this in mind when deploying for searches. The same grid area which can take hours to cover via sidehilling can be searched in a fraction of the time following these methods.

  • Identify the highest contour line in your search area
  • Choose a compass bearing and travel distance and communicate this to each searcher
  • Organize searchers along the highest contour line
  • Ski downward or in a zig-zag pattern in your search area, following compass bearings to retain group spacing
  • Regroup at the bottom and break a trail back to the top of the next portion of the search area
  • Take frequent turns at front - the group moves fastest with a fresh (or strongest) person breaking trail - like a peloton
  • It's most efficient to break trail by keeping your tips on top of the powder as you step forward
  • If powder is expected bring your skis with the most surface area - and skins to match
  • Find victim


  • How do I assess Probability of Discovery?

Probability of Discovery (PoD) is an art form refined through training and experience. You are expected to render a PoD judgment for a responsive patient scenario and an unresponsive patient scenario. Err on the side of caution.

  • What tracks and when do they need to be reported to IC?

Use good judgment when reporting tracks to IC. The tracks should be a single set and matching the subject's description (boots, ski, snowshoe, etc). Try not to report other searchers' tracks.

  • What spacing for searchers?

Searcher spacing is very terrain, weather, and condition dependent. With megaphones and light wind on a clear day, searchers can be spaced up to 100m apart. Night searches will require closer spacing, down to about 30m.

  • Using sound clues for searching?

Often search teams can end up yelling at each other. To prevent this, be sure to listen longer than you are shouting. Shout no more than 5 seconds at a time, and listen for more than 30 seconds.

  • What gear should we carry on SAR missions?

Check with IC about expectations for transport and potential overnights when checking in. Remember that helicopters can be grounded at very short notice, so if your team is tasked to travel out 12 miles and be picked up by heli, the aircraft may not be able to fly and perform the extraction. If overnight is expected, you might want to share group gear.

  • Why do my skins fall off?

It is very common for searcher's skins to fall off while searching. This is because searching relies on far more contouring and on skinned-downhill-travel than most skins are designed for; night searches are particularly notorious for searchers losing skins. In general, do not bring new or lightly tested gear to a search, bring the gear you know works so you don't become a victim.

During night searches, follow your skin manufacturer's recommendations and keep your skins warm by stowing inside your jacket when you are not using them - they'll stick better!

  • Can I talk to my team on the IC channel (CLEMARS, SAR, WHITEFIRE, etc)?

Use the local TBSP channel to talk within your team. Use the IC channel only to communicate with IC.

  • How do I get in touch with IC if my radio won't connect to them?

Get your IC's cell phone number and write yours on your sign-in sheet before you start searching!

  • Expectation what to do when you find somebody? How about if deceased?

Alive: Treat as an OEC incident.

Not alive: Do not mention the find over the radio. Follow sheriff's briefing, or if there is no briefing, request a sheriff's deputy to your location. Deceased individuals will be treated as potential crime scene, and it's important to keep the scene as you found it and to keep additional searchers away unless necessary for logistical purposes.

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