Avy One – Chapter 1: Topic 1

Key Concepts:
  1. Understand the elements of conducting a SAR mission deployment briefing
  2. Understand the components of a rescue team pre-deployment checklist
  3. Understand the mnemonic “LAST” for conducting a SAR mission.

The SAR Mission Briefing

“Every battle is won before it’s ever fought.” -Sun Tzu

Successful rescues require planning, teamwork & excellent communication. Just as guides would execute a trailhead briefing to their clients before heading into the backcountry, rescuers should conduct a pre-mission briefing before deploying into the field.  This will help assure

  1. All members know what the mission profile is (the problem they are facing)
  2. Members can hear the intended plan & the why behind the plan
  3. Lastly, team members can all ask questions & clarify details so they can buy into the plan

The SAR briefing is critical to your team’s success.  Keep it as simple as possible. Rushing or skimping on pre-deployment briefings often results in misguided rescue attempts with lots of assumptions, miscommunication & poor results.  

Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance


The SAR briefing is a fundamental strategy for any successful mission.  Remember to give team leaders and teams some freedom & flexibility on “how”  best to accomplish the overall mission goals. © Brian Taylor




Team Pre-deployment Checklist

After team members have been briefed on the overall mission goals and objectives and had any questions answered, teams and missions will be assigned.  Each team leader is responsible for the overall safety of their team members and should conduct a detailed Team Pre-Deployment Checklist before entering the field.

Set your team up for success by utilizing a checklist to ensure you have all the necessary logistics and equipment.  Once again, going over the details of a mission will give ownership, shared responsibility, and a better vision of the mission to the entire team.

Recommended team size is 4-6 members for a good span of control.

Team Pre-deployment Checklist

Determine Team Roles:  

TEAM #, team leader, medical, navigator, comm’s, rigging captain, site, riggers, edge pro, etc.

Establish Trip Plan & Route:

  GPS position or last known position of the subject, approximate mileage, elevation, and distance.

Environmental Update:

 Get avalanche, river, fire & weather updates from command or CAIC.

Travel Hazards: 

Discuss potential hazards & how the group will mitigate them (rock or icefall, slip & falls, avalanches & cornices, lightning & rain, sun & dehydration, hypothermia & frostbite, deadfall, twisted ankles, animals or plants, strainers/rapids/sieves)

Group Travel:

Discuss how we will safely travel as a group (buddy system, individually, teams).  The best method of travel to the location. (ski, snowshoe, snowmobile, helicopter).

GO/NO GO Concerns:

Ensure group consensus for go/no go:  turn around times, bad weather, dangerous river crossings, unsafe snow conditions, lightning, unconditioned clients, etc.

Food/Water/Gear Check:

24-hour pack, water, food

Specialized Equipment Check:

for Rock/Ice/Snow/Water  (Helmets, harnesses, beacon, ice axes, crampons, PFD’s, whistles, radios, throw bags…)

Confirm Group Equipment:

 (medical kit, vacuum splint, hypo bag, ropes, litter, SKED, anchors)

Radio Comm Check:

Establish primary channel, secondary channel and conduct radio check with command.

Cell Phone & GPS Optimization:

low power mode, turn off non-essential apps, dim brightness, airplane mode, maps downloaded for the trip?

Team Buy-In! 

Everyone agrees to travel plan, hazards, go or no go concerns?  Anything we have forgotten or not addressed?

Avalanche Transceiver/Radio/Team Departure checkout with Scribe before departing into the field

SAR Deployment Tactics:  Small Party Teams

Sample Small Party Rescue Teams with 4-6 members

Hasty Team Medical Team Evacuation Team Technical Rescue Team Dog Teams Swift-water Team
Team Leader
First Responder
SAR Member
Team Leader
Lead Medical
Assistant Medical
Team Leader
Litter Team Member 1
Litter Team Member 2
Litter Team Member 3
Litter Team Member 4
Team Leader (site commander)
Navigator (safety officer on scene)
Rigging Captain
Rigger/operator  Red Line
Rigger/operator  Blue Line
Litter Attendant/Pick-Off Technician
Team Leader
Dog Handler
Team Leader
Upstream Scout
Live Bait Swimmer
Rigger/Rope Operator
Throw Bag Rescuer #1
Throw Bag Rescuer#2
  • This is just a sample plan and more roles could be added or modified depending on the mission profile.  
  • The team leader should confirm the navigator’s coordinates/bearing.
  • The team leader can also serve as “comms” (communication with command)
  • All teams should have members trained in a minimum of CPR/First Aid (WFR recommended)

SAR Deployment Tactics:  “LAST”

Many Search & Rescue (SAR) teams will initiate an Incident Command System (ICS) to manage the rescue. This ICS personnel requirement only requires the necessity to fill key positions & get the job done. Often on a SAR, it may be on a much smaller scale than a typical urban fire/ambulance unified command system (especially disasters seen on TV like wildfires, building collapses, train wrecks, etc.).  Often one or two rescuers will fill the position of command and operations/logistics since many SAR personnel that respond may be needed for the field operations.

Locate the patient.

A UTM or Lat/Long coordinate position is ideal for locating subjects although this is not always feasible. A thorough interviewing of witnesses and any parties with pertinent information can help confirm a likely search area or the Last Seen Area (LSA)for your initial search area.

Field teams should always confirm the LSA on the map before entering the field. I enter the patient’s coordinates or LSA in my GPS prior to field deployment. This is an important step not to forget as you may lose communication with command in the field due to the inherent difficulties of radio communication in mountainous environments. Detailed coordinates should be relayed to med-evac helicopters ASAP so they start to research the local weather, routes, and landing zones.

Utilize basic search theory practices to locate the subject: 

  • Hasty team searches to LSA’s & other likely areas.
  • All teams should be using audio & visual attraction techniques (yelling, whistle blasts, lights, etc…).
  • Radio in all clues (tracks, equipment found, blood…) that you find on the search to discover if they are pertinent or not.


When you have visual or audible contact with the subject ( considered “in the area”) it is time to plan an access route to the subject.  Advise command and all incoming teams of any important updates regarding access to the subject.

The site commander is responsible for relaying important information from the scene to the incident command.  Ideally, the rescue leader is “hands-off”.  It is their job to see the big picture of the rescue.

SAR team members arrive on the scene of an avalanche.  Before locating the buried victim they quickly survey the site establishing a plan.

The rescue leader is responsible for relaying important information from the site to incident command.  Ideally, the site commander is “hands-off”.  It is their job to see the big picture of the rescue.

Team members implement the search plan.  Rescuers should always have their backpacks on their backs at all times!


Once you contact the subject provide medical and technical stabilization if needed. Technically stabilizing the subject consists of getting them secure from any local environmental hazards (putting a helmet on to protect them from rock or ice fall or putting an improvisational harness and securing them to an anchor). Some perilous scenes may require the rescuer to do an emergency move to get the subject to a secure location where the rescuer can now safely perform medical interventions. 

Medically stabilizing the patient requires managing any life-threatening injuries then stabilizing orthopedic/soft tissue injuries, treating for hypothermia, & preparing the patient for evacuation. 


Bystanders and friends of the injured party help move the patient to a more secure location.  Often bystanders and friends may also need some support.  They may be exhausted, cold & hypothermic from the unexpected emergency.

Evacuating the patient is often the most arduous component of the rescue. Depending on your location, helicopter/motorized vehicle access, and the number of personnel on the scene this can range from minutes to many, many hours. SAR dogma of always being ready to spend the night out is very important here. That is why SAR teams call their personnel backpacks “24-hour packs”!