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Handbook 11-07
December 2010

Appendix L

Search and Rescue

National Search and Rescue Committee

The National Search and Rescue Committee (NSARC) is a federal-level committee formed to coordinate civil search and rescue (SARs) matters of interagency interest within the United States. Its members include:

  • Department of Defense (DOD).
  • Department of Commerce.
  • Department of Transportation.
  • Department of the Interior.
  • Department of Homeland Security.
  • Federal Communications Commission.
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The NSARC developed the National Search and Rescue Plan, which divided the United States into search and rescue regions (SRR) and assigned SAR coordinators for each. They are:

  • United States Air Force: Recognized SAR coordinator for the United States aeronautical SRR corresponding to the continental United States other than Alaska.
  • United States Pacific Command: Recognized SAR coordinator for the United States aeronautical SRR corresponding to Alaska.
  • United States Coast Guard: Recognized SAR coordinator for all other U.S. aeronautical and maritime SRRs. This includes the state of Hawaii as well as waters over which the United States has jurisdiction, such as navigable waters of the United States.

During a Stafford Act incident, the DOD may provide SAR support following a request by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), directed by a joint director of military support and approved by the secretary of defense. However, local commanders may also provide SAR support when an imminently serious threat to public health and safety exists and time does not permit prior approval. Within the United States, the Title 10 air support to civil operations falls under the control of 1st Air Force/Air Force North (1AF/AFNORTH). On the ground, urban SAR is conducted by specialized units of both government and nongovernmental organizations. In the National Response Framework (NRF), SAR falls under Emergency Support Function (ESF) #9. See Chapter 5 of this handbook for more on the ESFs.

Aeronautical Search and Rescue

1AF/AFNORTH rapidly responds to nonmilitary threats. Under its defense support to civil authorities (DSCA) mission, the organization assists civilian agencies before and during emergencies, natural or man-made disasters, and other DOD-approved activities. This role provides the ability to save lives, relieve suffering, prevent property damage, and provide humanitarian assistance where and when it is needed most in the United States.

Operating with the 601st Air Operations Center, the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC) serves as the U.S. inland SAR mission coordinator and is the single agency responsible for coordinating on-land federal searches. These SAR operations can be conducted anywhere in the 48 states, Mexico, and Canada. The AFRCC has direct ties to the Federal Aviation Administration alerting system and the U.S. Mission Control Center. The joint forces air component commander (JFACC) establishes a joint personnel recovery center (JPRC), as required. The Civil Air Patrol (CAP), flying as the Air Force Auxiliary (AFAUX), is a significant partner in SAR and other DSCA missions.

Air Force Rescue Coordination Center

The United States Air Force (USAF) is designated by the National Search and Rescue Plan (NSP) as the SAR coordinator for the U.S. aeronautical SRR corresponding to the continental United States other than Alaska. The secretary of the Air Force has delegated this responsibility through headquarters Air Combat Command/commander (CC) to 1 AF/CC. The AFRCC coordinates federal SAR services, ensuring timely and effective lifesaving operations. Additionally, the AFRCC conducts advanced SAR planning instruction, through the National SAR School, to federal, state, and local agencies as well as to volunteer SAR organizations and controllers. The AFRCC is an active duty squadron integrated into the 601st Air and Space Operations Center at Tyndall Air Force Base, FL.

The AFRCC is responsible for coordinating all federal inland commercial, military, and interstate aeronautical SAR in the contiguous United States and assists Mexico and Canada when requested. The responsibilities include:

  • Initiating searches for missing/overdue aircraft (including all DOD, commercial, and interstate aircraft or intrastate aircraft, if requested by the state).
  • Managing all inland emergency beacon searches: 121.5, 243.0 and 406 megahertz (MHz) emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) on aircraft, emergency position-indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs) for maritime environment, and personal locator beacons (PLBs) that are used in all environments. (Hikers, mountain climbers and anyone else who has the capability of getting lost could use a PLB.)
  • Brokering federal assets to support state and local SAR operations (including missing person searches, medical evacuation, organ transport, transport of ground SAR units, and special capabilities).

NSP: It is the policy of the signatory federal agencies to provide an NSP for the United States for coordinating SAR services to meet domestic needs and international commitments. Implementing guidance for this plan is provided in the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual and the National Search and Rescue Supplement (NSS) and supporting addenda. The NSP describes the U.S. SAR organization, key authorities, responsibilities, primary principles, and policies within the SAR system. The NSP is solely intended to provide internal guidance to all signatory federal agencies. State organizations retain established SAR responsibilities within their boundaries for incidents that are primarily local or intrastate in character. As such, the AFRCC maintains memorandums of agreement between each state governor and 1 AF/CC that establish SAR responsibilities between the designated Inland SAR coordinator and each state. A memorandum of understanding exists between the governor's designated state SAR coordinator and AFRCC/CC (the SAR mission coordinator) on how the SAR responsibilities are conducted in each state.

Joint Personnel Recovery Center (JPRC): According to Operation Order 08-01, the Northern Command (NORTHCOM) commander designated the JFACC as the supported personnel recovery commander and establishes the NORTHCOM JPRC in the 601st Air and Space Operations Center to plan and execute joint DOD (Title 10) personnel recovery for NORTHCOM's area of responsibility and DSCA in support of state catastrophic incident SAR (CIS) operations. The JPRC plans, coordinates, and executes joint CIS missions, coordinates CIS procedures published in the air tasking order (ATO) and special instructions, reviews theater plans, and coordinates joint training and exercises.

ESF #9: The Department of Homeland Security/FEMA activates ESF #9 when an incident is anticipated or occurs that may result in a request for a unified federal SAR response to an impacted area. DOD is one of the four primary federal partners for ESF #9. Following a presidential disaster declaration, the designated lead primary agency for ESF #9 coordinates federal SAR response with federal, state, tribal, territorial, and locally designated SAR authorities to integrate federal SAR resources and support the requesting state.

Global Area Reference System (GARS): GARS is a standardized area reference system used across DOD and CAP which can be used to deconflict deliberate SAR operations. It is based on the standard latitude and longitude system to provide an integrated common frame of reference for joint force situational awareness and facilitate air-to-ground coordination, deconfliction, integration, and synchronization. This area reference system provides a common language between the components and simplifies communications. It is important to note that GARS is primarily designed as a battle-space management tool and not to be used for navigation or targeting.

GARS design: GARS divides the surface of the earth into 30-minute by 30-minute cells. Each cell is identified by a five-character designator, such as 006AG. The first three characters designate a 30-minute wide longitudinal band. Beginning with the 180-degree meridian and proceeding eastward, the bands are numbered from 001 to 720, so that 180 E to 179 30 W is band 001; 179 30 W to 179 00 W is band 002; and so on. Additional information and GARS grids can be downloaded from the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency website at ""

The AFRCC and JPRC are available for SAR planning support advice and assistance 24 hours a day, every day at 800-851-3051, (850) 283-5955, or DSN 523-5955.

Civil Air Patrol Air Force Auxiliary

The CAP, a volunteer civilian SAR organization, provides SAR services as an official auxiliary of the USAF and represents the primary SAR resource available to the civil sector. Under the NRF, FEMA is the primary agency for ESF #9.

When tasked by the Air Force, CAP, in its AFAUX role, can support federal state and local authorities, performing various reconnaissance, emergency services, homeland security and disaster relief missions. CAP has over 55,000 volunteers and a fleet of 550 aircraft nationwide (including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands) available for tasking, generally with a 4-hour response time.

With advanced coordination, CAP/AFAUX forces can be postured to a responsive alert status with a capability to launch within minutes. For nonimmediate response incidents, it is imperative to plan ahead and make requests early enough to ensure timely approval of requests through the normal AFNORTH ATO process.

CAP/AFAUX capabilities include:

  • Aerial imaging: Provides the ability to image, transmit, and download high resolution digital photos from airborne platforms via e-mail. Provides short-notice, in-flight disaster and damage assessment as well as ongoing visual reconnaissance.
  • Airborne visual reconnaissance: Conducts visual airborne reconnaissance of isolated locations, border and coastal areas, ports and harbors, and critical infrastructure, including nuclear power plants, gas pipelines, reservoirs, etc. to help identify suspicious activity.
  • Satellite link airborne dynamic retasking: Satellite links provide the ability to contact aircraft in order to retask/request different photo orientation or mission changes.
  • Light air transport/air taxi: Provides transport of human blood or organs, equipment, passengers, or search dog teams to austere/remote airfields.
  • Air and ground fleet availability: Maintains a fleet of over 550 aircraft, 940 ground vehicles and trained crews available for SAR.
  • Communications support: An extensive communications network that provides very high frequency (VHF) and high frequency (HF) capability as well as aerial communications relay platforms. The network includes over 5,000 fixed land VHF radio stations and 10,000 mobile radios, as well as a nationwide HF network.
  • Personnel: A cadre of more than 650 chaplains is available for weekly religious services or general support. Trained ground crews to provide damage assessment and mitigation, disaster recovery, and limited security to augment civil and military authorities.
  • Law enforcement support: Ability to take law enforcement or VIP personnel aloft for visual reconnaissance of areas of interest when legal requirements are met.
  • Sensor adaptability: Capable (with sufficient advanced coordination) of carrying various customer-supplied sensor packages aloft.

CAP/AFAUX assets

  • Aircraft: Five hundred and fifty light civil aircraft, including Cessna C-172, C-182, and C-206 models, as well 16 Gippsland GA-8 eight seat aircraft, are strategically placed throughout the nation.
  • Satellite digital imaging system- (SDIS)- equipped aircraft: One hundred C-182 are aircraft equipped with SDIS and are used to transmit still-frame digital pictures in near real time and direct voice communications from the aircraft.
  • Aircraft equipped hyperspectral system: The 16 Gippsland GA-8 is equipped with airborne hyperspectral imaging systems for complex or sophisticated target detection.
  • Ground equipment: CAP has over 850 seven-, 12-, and 15-passenger vans, 4x4s, and long-bed pickups, as well as 90 dedicated communications vehicles with limited all-band capability.
  • Nationwide radio communications system: Comprised of over 15,000 CAP-owned base, mobile, and portable two-way radios, the national & regional HF radio networks provide survivable, infrastructure-independent command and control communications that are not dependent on satellite/cellular telephone systems. There are over 500 VHF radio repeater stations located strategically throughout the country, as well as 1,400 airborne, mobile, and hand-held direction finder (DF) units.

Sensor descriptions

  • Direction finder (DF): The DF is designed to locate emergency locator beacons on downed aircraft or emergency position indicating radio beacons from ships in distress. It can receive emergency signals on 121.5 MHz (old civil frequency), 243 MHz (old military frequency), and 406 MHz (new universal frequency).
  • SDIS: Point-to-multipoint transmission of aerial digital photography is delivered in-flight via satellite communications. An SDIS functional unit is comprised of an aircraft equipped with a photo window, a digital camera, laptop computer, aircraft satellite telephone equipment and a trained three-person crew. Since images are sent directly to a customer's computer, no specialized ground equipment is needed. A photo is attached to a standard Microsoft Outlook e-mail, allowing for text information (latitude or longitude coordinates, time stamp, site identification, conditions, etc.) to accompany photos. The near real-time nature of SDIS images has proven effective in SAR; disaster response and damage assessment; environmental impact damage, destruction appraisal, and tracking; and facility security reconnaissance, among many other tasks.
  • Airborne real-time cueing hyperspectral enhanced reconnaissance (ARCHER): ARCHER is the most sophisticated unclassified hyperspectral imaging system available. It has direct applications for SAR, counterdrug; disaster relief, and impact assessment, and homeland security. ARCHER is a non-invasive reflected light technology that uses three separate methods for target identification:
    • Spectral signature matching: Evaluates reflected light against a library of spectral signatures to identify specifically-targeted objects.
    • Anomaly detection: Compares reflected light against a continuously calculated background spectrum. Anomalies are flagged as potential targets for further evaluation.
    • Change detection: Executes a pixel-by-pixel comparison of current image against ground conditions that were obtained in a previous mission over the same area. Scene changes are identified, and new, moved or departed targets are highlighted for evaluation.

How to Request/Access CAP/AFAUX Capabilities

(SAR/Life-saving missions include emergency blood, organ and tissue transport.)

AFRCC (24/7/365): Toll free: (800) 851-3051; DSN 523; commercial: (850) 523-5955

All Other Mission Requests

(Includes immediate response missions to prevent human suffering or to mitigate great property damage.)

CAP National Operations Center 24/7/365 on-call duty officer available: Toll free: (888)-211-1812, Ext 300

AFNORTH CAP liaison officer, normal duty hours only: Toll free: (800) 896-8806 (Tyndall operator); commercial: (850) 283-5880: DSN 523

Combined Air Operations Center senior operations duty officer, 24/7/365: Toll free: (800) 896-8806 (Tyndall operator): commercial: (850) 283-5573

Urban Search and Rescue

Urban search-and-rescue (USAR) involves the location, rescue (extrication), and initial medical stabilization of victims trapped in confined spaces. Structural collapse, transportation accidents, mines and collapsed trenches can lead to victims being trapped.

Urban search-and-rescue is considered a "multihazard" discipline, as it may be needed for a variety of emergencies or disasters, including earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons, storms and tornadoes, floods, dam failures, technological accidents, terrorist activities, and hazardous materials releases. The events may be slow in developing, as in the case of hurricanes, or sudden, as in the case of earthquakes.

If a disaster event warrants national USAR support, FEMA will deploy the three closest task forces within six hours of notification and additional teams as necessary. The role of these task forces is to support state and local emergency responders' efforts to locate victims and manage recovery operations.

Each task force consists of two 31-person teams, four canines, and a comprehensive equipment cache. USAR task force members work in four areas of specialization: search, to find victims trapped after a disaster; rescue, which includes safely digging victims out of tons of collapsed concrete and metal; technical, made up of structural specialists who make rescues safe for the rescuers; and medical, which cares for the victims before and after a rescue.

Today there are 28 national task forces staffed and equipped to conduct round-the-clock SAR operations following earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, aircraft accidents, hazardous materials spills, and catastrophic structure collapses. These task forces, complete with necessary tools and equipment and required skills and techniques, can be deployed by FEMA for the rescue of victims of structural collapse. A task force is totally self-sufficient for the first 72 hours of a deployment.

What the task force can do:

  • Conduct physical SAR in collapsed buildings.
  • Provide emergency medical care to trapped victims.
  • Use SAR dogs.
  • Assess and control gas, electric service and hazardous materials.
  • Evaluate and stabilize damaged structures.

Urban Search and Rescue Task Force Locations









Los Angeles City Fire Department


Los Angeles County Fire Department


Menlo Park Fire Department


Oakland Fire Department


Orange County Fire Department


Riverside Fire Department


Sacramento Fire Department


San Diego Fire Department



State of Colorado



Miami-Dade Fire Department


Miami Fire Department



Mairon County



Montgomery County



City of Beverly



Boone County Fire Protection District



Lincoln Fire Department



Clark County Fire Department

New Mexico


State of New Mexico

New York


New York City fire, emergency medical service, and police



Miami Valley Urban Search and Rescue



Commonwealth of Pennsylvania



Memphis Fire Department



State of Texas Urban Search and Rescue



Salt Lake Fire Department



Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department


Virginia Beach Fire Department



Puget Sound Task Force

Table L-2. Urban Search and Rescue Task Force Locations.

Detailed procedures for USAR can be found in FEMA's Urban Search and Rescue Response System in Federal Disaster Operations manual, January 2000. This and other resources are available at ""

Army support

Photo showing a combat engineer of the U.S. Army Technical Rescue Engineer Company

Figure L-1.

The 911th U.S. Army Technical Rescue Engineer Company (911th EC) is the only unit of its kind in the U.S. Army. 911th EC is comprised of combat engineers trained in technical rescue tasks, specializing in rescue techniques for victims trapped in collapsed buildings.

On order, 911th EC deploys and conducts technical rescue operations in support of military and/or federal contingencies in the National Capital Region. When not training or engaged in rescue missions, the unit provides limited engineer support to the Military District of Washington.

The 911th EC trains with state, local and federal agencies to include FEMA USAR teams, to develop and maintain the most advanced skills in the field.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) USAR mission is to provide efficient and effective physical and technical support to the FEMA mission response effort under ESF #9. This includes developing, training, and equipping USACE structural engineers to operate as support to the FEMA USAR task forces and the FEMA USAR incident support team (IST) engineering cell. The USAR program also provides training for all FEMA USAR structures specialists.

Additional USACE mission priorities include:

  • Provide technical assistance to local jurisdictions regarding rescue efforts.
  • Provide technical assistance to military personnel who provide light to heavy USAR support.
  • Provide technical support to other agencies (such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Agency, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, National Institute of Standards and Technology, etc.)

USACE provides USAR training courses for structures specialists (StS) from both USACE and FEMA. In addition, other agencies attend this course, such as the Army's 911th EC, state, and regional task forces, and foreign countries involved with USAR.

StS design shoring systems to stabilize structures for rescuers to gain safe access to the victims. The StS are trained in Rescue Systems 1 (a basic rescue skills course). They also receive instruction in structural collapse patterns, hazard identification and building monitoring, rapid assessment of buildings, building triage and marking systems, advance shoring, and shoring calculations. Mission durations are short and usually 6 to 10 days.

USACE StS Cadre is an essential component of USAR task forces and the IST with the ability for fast deployment in a life saving mission. The StS brings engineering expertise to the USAR task force. Responsible for evaluating the immediate structural conditions at the incident and recommending the appropriate hazard mitigation, the StS serves a vital function to the task forceWhile supporting an incident, StS interact with local fire and rescue squads and state task forces. They conduct entry into partially collapsed spaces in support of the operations of rescue specialists. StS support includes evaluation of structures hazards within the partially collapsed structure, recommendations for shoring of those spaces and efficient breaching of obstructions.

Recent Lessons Learned

In a Vigilant Guard exercise, November 2009 in Tonawanda, NY, USACE StS worked a rubble pile problem with the New York National Guard civil support team and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high-yield explosive [CBRNE] enhanced response force packages (CERFPs) as well as local responders. Lessons learned included:

  • Even though exercises may include a simulated collapse structure event, exercise planners must realize the "pile" will be "live." This requires real-world decisions about participant safety and the need to mitigate potentially hazardous conditions. This requires the real world use of monitoring tools to evaluate if a suspect structure is stable or not.
  • Operations should run 24 hours to allow for night work, shift changes, and coordination challenges.
  • Receiving teams (rescue squads; CERFPs; etc.) were unaware of the StS role and required a detailed explanation and continual advocacy for education and involvement. An StS liaison should be dedicated to CERFP teams working the same incident.
  • The Rino global positioning system devices were difficult to use while crawling through pile.
  • The wireless building-monitoring system needs to be ruggedized.
  • USACE training to StS, FEMA USAR teams, and state USAR teams means all have a common reference and uniform terminology of the disaster response environment.

Points of Contact

For additional information regarding the USACE USAR program, contact one of the following subject-matter experts:

  • USACE Emergency Management, South Pacific Division: (415) 503-6616 FAX: (415) 503-6647.
  • USACE Emergency Management, South Pacific Division Chief: (415) 503-6610 FAX: (415) 503-6647.


Defense Support to Civil Authorities Air Support Handbook, Headquarters First Air Force/Air Forces Northern (1AF [AFNORTH]), 01 January 2009.

Domestic Operational Law Handbook for Judge Advocates, LTC Patrick A. Barnett, Editor, 20 July 2009, Center for Law and Military Operations, "".

DOD 4515.13-R, Air Transportation Eligibility, (November 1994), through change 3, April 9, 1998. paragraph C5.7; See also ESF #9.

AFNORTH Fact Sheet, "", August 2008.

FEMA at "".

Urban Search & Rescue Mission Overview, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Office of Homeland Security, Civil Emergency Management, June 2007.

National Search and Rescue Plan of the United States, National Search and Rescue Committee, 2007.



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