The San Diego Sheriff's Department Search and Rescue K-9 Unit has
been in existence for over 30 years. Teams are available 24 hours a day
to respond to local, state and federal law enforcement as well as other
public service agency requests.
SEARCH DOG DOCUMENTARY
The following documentary by Avtek Productions gives you a peek inside
the canine unit of Search & Rescue. Follow along as they conclude a successful
search for a missing man in the rugged back country of San Diego County.
WHEN CAN SEARCH DOGS BE HELPFUL?
An overdue hiker in a wilderness area
An Alzheimer's patient who has walked away
A missing child
A drowning victim in a lake
An area where there may be human remains buried
A victim buried in a landslide or avalanche
A missing person where suicide is suspected
Persons suspected of being in a collapsed structure
To help determine if an article was worn by a subject
To help determine if a subject was in an area
To locate human remains after a fire
WHAT SEARCH DOG TEAMS ARE ABLE TO DO
Trailing dogs are trained to follow the path that a missing person has
taken. Similar to traditional "tracking" dogs, these dogs require a
properly preserved scent guide and should not be distracted by other
people in the area. These dogs usually work on long leashes. Trailing
dogs most frequently work trails that are several days old. Area search
dogs are trained to find any human scent in an area. These dogs work
most frequently off-leash and can cover large areas. Search dogs can be
helpful in a variety of situations in the wilderness, as well as, in
urban settings. Many of our mission-ready dog teams are also certified
It is estimated that a single dog team can be as effective as 20 to 30
trained human searchers in locating a missing person in a given time
frame. Please remember a SAR dog is a tool and like any tool, there are
limitations. Some of the factors that impact a search dog's ability to
detect scent include air temperature, humidity, terrain, wind and age of
Dog handlers are continually updating their skills and knowledge and
most participate in 50 to 100 hours or more of training and missions per
month. Dog handlers must have all of the training required of other SAR
members such as first aid, navigation, survival and man-tracking, plus
special skills required to be a dog handlers.
Search dogs are well-socialized animals and represent a wide variety of
breeds from golden retrievers to bloodhounds and German shepherds. They
are tested extensively for temperament and must be able to work
independently and for long durations. Search dogs are exposed to a wide
variety of conditions and are expected to function in almost any
environment they are placed in. Minimum dog training requirements
include socialization, obedience, helicopter orientation, and search
work. As a team, the dog and handler must pass a series of search tests
to become mission-ready. On average, it takes two years for a handler
and dog to become mission-ready. Teams must participate in on-going
training throughout the year, as well as, annual re-certification.
HOW TO REQUEST SAN DIEGO SHERIFF'S SEARCH AND RESCUE DOGS
If you think a search dog may be helpful to you, please contact the
on-duty SAR Coordinator through the Sheriff's Communications Center at
858-565-5200. You may also contact the Sheriff's Search and Rescue
Coordinator directly during business hours at 619-956-4990. The
Coordinator can discuss your situation with you and make recommendations
regarding the use of search dogs or other SAR resources.
The Communications Unit is one of the most versatile units assigned to
the Search and Rescue Detail. The unit is comprised of both sworn
Reserve Deputies and non-sworn Rescue Volunteers and Citizen Volunteers.
This unit is one of two that do not require attendance at the Search and
Rescue academy. This makes it available to those potential members who
may not have the time or physical stamina to attend the academy.
The primary function of the Communications Unit is to provide personnel
for the operation and staffing of the Sheriff Department's mobile
command post. This command post is called "Mobile Command One" It is a
forty foot Thomas bus that is equipped with two radio dispatch consoles,
mapping table, mobile data terminals, computers and other specialized
equipment. It contains a Radio Room, Planning Room and Command room.
This three room mobile facility becomes the heart of operations for the
department where ever it responds. It can be seen on a wide variety of
events. From local disasters and emergencies to assisting other agencies
in law enforcement and related duties. Recent local emergencies have
included the Viejas Fire and Santana High School shooting incidents.
Non-emergency activities have included the Del Mar Fair, Sand Castles,
Mother Goose Parade, and Miramar Air Show.
Training is provided for all personnel. This will include a general
orientation, Mobile Command One orientation, map and compass, radio
operation, computer operation, map plotting, resource management,
telephone operation, forms and more forms.
The Logistics Unit provides support to all aspects of the search
function. It establishes a base command set up, providing traffic and
parking control. Additionally, the unit establishes a safe landing zone
for aerial support.
In Logistics, individuals provide food service for all personnel via our
Search and Rescue Mobile Field Kitchen. This unit is capable of serving
approximately 200 searchers, three meals a day.
Our Sheriff’s Department utilizes our Logistics unit frequently. Past
mission request have included San Diego Biotech staging area for Mutual
Aid personnel, S.W.A.T. Rifle Competitions, Station Open House
celebrations and many others.
The primary mission of the Medical Unit is to provide trained medical
personnel in support of Search and Rescue and other Sheriff's Department
Medical personnel respond in on-road and off-road environments using a
variety of field vehicles (medical service vehicle, 4 x 4 utility and 4
x 4 quads) to provide basic life support (BLS) pre-hospital emergency
care to injured victims or rescue workers. The Medical Unit also
provides stand-by/special event medical services to other Details within
the Sheriff's Department at their request. The Medical Unit provides
update, refresher and continuing education training for Search and
LEVELS OF PARTICIPATIONS
There are currently three levels of participation within the Medical
Reserve Deputy- Reserve Deputies are sworn reserve peace officers.
Medical Unit Reserve Deputies provide field medical support
(pre-hospital emergency care and basic life support) and limited law
enforcement services during Search and Rescue and other Sheriff's
Department operations. Reserve Deputies may be called upon to provide
additional law enforcement services at the direction of another Reserve
Deputy or full time peace officer during other law enforcement
operations. Reserve Deputies must successfully complete the Search and
Rescue academy in addition to 832 PC reserve academy training.
Rescue Volunteer (RV)- Rescue Volunteers are non-sworn civilian
employees. Medical Unit Rescue Volunteers provide field medical support
(pre-hospital emergency care and basic life support) in support of
Search and Rescue and other Sheriff's Department operations. Rescue
Volunteers must successfully complete the Search and Rescue academy.
Civilian Volunteer (CV)- Civilian Volunteers are non-sworn civilian
employees. Medical Unit Civilian Volunteers provide base camp medical
support (pre-hospital emergency care and basic life support) in support
of Search and Rescue and other Sheriff's Department operations. Because
Civilian Volunteers do not attend the Search and Rescue academy, they
are not field qualified. Civilian Volunteers must successfully complete
the Medical Unit training program.
MEDICAL UNIT QUALIFICATIONS
In addition to basic Search and
Rescue Detail qualifications, members of the Medical Unit must possess and maintain a current medical certification in one of the
Medical Doctor (MD)
Registered Nurse (RN)
Paramedic (EMT-P, WEMT-P)
Emergency Medical Technician (1A, FS, WEMT)
Possess and maintain a current CPR card.
STANDARD OF CARE
Although the Medical Unit currently employs persons with Advanced Life
Support (ALS) medical certifications, the San Diego County Sheriff's
Department is classified as a Basic Life Support (BLS) medical provider
within the County of San Diego. The Sheriff's Department is not a
transporting agency. All treatment provided by the Medical Unit will be
to the EMT-BLS standard of care, in accordance with County treatment
guidelines and protocols.
Members of the Search and Rescue Medical Unit utilize medical equipment
consistent with County Basic Life Support (BLS) protocols. Medical Unit
personnel will typically respond with a medical response kit containing
the following items (partial list):
Oxygen Delivery System
Portable Suction Device
At the request of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department - Off Road
Enforcement Team, the Search and Rescue Medical Unit provides
pre-hospital medical care and basic life support response for the
Ocotillo Wells Off -Highway Vehicle Recreational Area located within the
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park at the eastern edge of San Diego County.
During the off road desert season (Halloween through Easter), the
popularity of recreational vehicle riding draws large numbers of people
to the deserts of San Diego County. Unfortunately, the large crowds and
high concentration of off-road riders stretches the resources of the
local law enforcement and medical providers, especially during busy
holiday weekends. In an effort improve public safety, the local public
safety provider (California State Park Service) has invited the San
Diego County Sheriff Department's Off-Road Enforcement Team and Search
and Rescue Medical Unit to assist in providing law enforcement and
medical services within the concurrent jurisdiction. The San Diego
County Sheriff Department's ORET and SAR medical resources are a
supplement to the services already provided by the California State Park
Service, Ocotillo Wells Volunteer Fire Department, Imperial County
Sheriff, Westshore Ambulance and Mercy Air.
The Search and Rescue Medical Unit is proud of its service to the
residents and visitors of San Diego County and would like to continue
the tradition of service for years to come.
Members use their personal SUV’s and pick-up trucks to transport
personnel and equipment in and out of search areas, in rural and urban
settings. Included are 4x4 and 4x2 vehicles. They are also used for
perimeter containment and can transport mobile repeaters to high points
to increase communication capabilities. Utilizing their mobile,
higher-powered radios, they can provide relay communications in areas
where the field teams cannot contact the search command post.
Also, included under the Motorized Unit, is the SAR Bike (Search and
Rescue mountain bike) Squad. It is made up of field qualified personnel
from the Motorized Unit and other units in the SAR Detail. Field
qualified personnel from other SAR Units may participate on the SAR Bike
As a member of Mounted Unit, not only do you have a chance to donate
your time to your community but also to work with your horse as a
The horse/human partnership in a search can have many different and
The elevated position of the searcher can enhance the ability to see
sign and track the subject. It also provides a wider range of view. The
independent awareness of sound, movement and odor that a horse possesses
can lead to the conclusion of a successful search. The speed in which a
horse/human partnership can move will assist in covering outlying areas.
This is critical to foot searchers in order for them to focus on a more
specific area. The strength and power of the horse can be utilized for
subject evacuation, canine rescue when needed, and movement of supplies
to areas not accessible to vehicles. This partnership can be utilized
for radio relay and observation posts.
As a member of the Mounted Unit you are also asked to participate in
some fun community public relation duties. This can include parades and
other appearances where you and your equine partner represent the San
Diego County Sheriff's Department.
As a member of SAR you are trained to participate in disaster services
other than SAR. Under normal circumstances, this training is more than
useful. In this day and age, it could be critical to the lives in your
The primary mission of the Tactical Search Unit is to provide
specialists in tracking and navigation. This unit provides extensive
expertise in ground search activities and provides support to other
units during specialized SAR missions. The unit is responsible for
training Detail personnel on tracking and navigation skills and for
teaching basic tracking and navigation at the SAR Academy.
The members of the Tactical Search Unit are major participants on field
teams during actual missions. Because they employ no more than their own
feet, rather than horses or motor vehicles, to traverse the terrain,
they are often referred to as the, "Ground Pounders". A title they
proudly sport! Desert heat to mountain snow; from deep ravines to high
ridges; through rugged canyons and heavy brush; up or down steep slopes;
in daylight or darkness; the Tactical Search Unit members are prepared
for field team assignments and leadership.
Members of the Tactical Search Unit are specialists in both tracking and
navigation. Tracking is both an art and a technical skill. Members of
the Tactical Search Unit are highly trained and skilled in preserving
and assessing the PLS (point last seen) for clues and sign left behind
by the subjects of a search and in determining a direction of travel of
subjects. They specialize in discerning disturbances on the ground and
in the brush to detect the slightest indication that a person has or has
not passed through an area. They are trained specialists in both, "slow"
or step by step tracking and "fast", or jump, tracking. They are highly
trained specialists in the use of map and compass and GPS units to
navigate through any type of terrain and can provide navigation support
for any field team.
The Tactical Search Unit is responsible for monitoring and mapping the
movement of field teams during each mission and providing this
information to the Search Management Team. Radio transmissions are
monitored in order to collect navigation data, or map coordinates, as
each team carries out their assignment. When teams return to the command
post data is collected from their GPS units and downloaded onto
specialized computer programs located on Mobile Command-1. An up to date
record is maintained on the computer to indicate where teams are in the
field, as well as, to record a history of what search areas have or have
not been covered during the mission. This data is plotted to provide
detailed graphic representations of maps that are then used by the
management team in the planning of the future search operations.
All members of the Tactical Search Unit are required to attain
specialist certification in both tracking and navigation within one year
of entry into the Unit. This is accomplished through training, testing,
and mission experience.
Each year the Unit offers a course in Tracking
Specialist and a course in Navigation Specialist. The courses include
both classroom and field training and are in addition to the basic
tracking and navigation training received in the SAR Academy. After
completing the Specialist courses the candidate must complete and
document 20 hours of training for each of the two specialties. Mission
experience is counted toward certification. Following completion of the
training phase, the specialist candidate will be required to complete a
certification trial, or test, to demonstrate successfully the skills of
Overall the Tactical Search Unit offers an exciting opportunity to
participate in demanding assignments on critical search and rescue
missions. By developing and utilizing specialized search skills;
training with enthusiastic, highly skilled personnel; and being prepared
to take on field team leadership responsibilities; members of the
Tactical Search Unit are an active, integral part of the San Diego
Sheriff's Search and Rescue Detail.
Each of our unit members goes through Rescue Specialist training. It is
a 32-hour in-house class held once a year to teach the basics of rope
rescue. The topics covered include anchor systems, hardware and
software, knots and improvised harness tying, belaying, rappelling,
raising and lowering systems, low angle rescue, litter tending, and the
Incident Command System as it applies to rope rescue. The certification
is good for one year. Other groups that have participated in our class
include the Border Patrol's BORSTAR rescue team and the San Diego
Mountain Rescue Team.
Rope rescue involves an element of risk so we strive to minimize it
through constant practice and repetition. The unit trains once a month
in some element of rope rescue to maintain proficiency. During a typical
training we practice doing victim pickoffs, litter work, rappelling,
raising and lowering systems, low angle systems, etc.
We've developed a short 6-8 hour first responder class in how to access
a subject down a steep embankment, such as when a car goes over a
guardrail. The class covers gear, knots, improvised harnesses, anchors,
rappelling, and ropewalking. Just enough so that you, as a first
responder, can safely and expediently access an accident subject in
The San Diego Sheriff's Department Search and Rescue Academy is one of
only a handful nationwide. Search and Rescue's Training Unit organizes
and coordinates the Academy with assistance from a Training Committee
composed of Training Sergeants throughout the Detail.
Academies are scheduled once per year and over 50 people from the SAR
Detail, as well as, paid members from the department will participate as
instructors and assistants. In one way, many search and rescue
applicants are similar to Law Enforcement applicants. They come to SAR
with visions of sirens, flashing lights, headlines and, "film at 11:00".
Our job in the Training Unit is, to channel the enthusiasm that all
applicants bring and develop disciplined and dedicated searchers.
SAR Academies consist of about 30 students. These people come from any occupation you can
name including blue collar, professional, medical, military and more.
Some come to SAR because of an interest in Law Enforcement, but have
found search work more to their liking. Others have channeled a love of
the outdoors, or hobbies like backpacking and mountain climbing, into
community service. Some others simply learn about the work in the news
or from friends or co-workers.
Students attend classes on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and alternating
Saturdays plus a couple of full weekends. They will receive
approximately 220 hours of classroom instruction and "hands on" field
training in a range of subjects. Topics included are: Introduction to
the Incident Command System, Lost Person Behavior, Search Theory,
Tracking, Land Navigation, First Aid and CPR,
Traffic Control, Technical Rescue, Helicopter Operations, Crime Scene
Protection, Interviewing, Hot and Cold Weather Survival, Radio
Communications Theory and Practice, Wildland Fire Concepts and Safety
Practices and Search Canine basics.
The students also get an
introduction to the Medical Examiner, Critical Incident Stress and learn
about the odd meth lab, or marijuana field they may encounter in the
backcountry. And what academy would be complete without Report Writing?
All that instruction is with an eye toward our main job - Finding lost
people. Upon graduation, the students will have the knowledge and skills
of an entry-level searcher. It is the job of the graduates, working with
their individual units, to expand knowledge in their specialties.
The Training Unit and committee also plan two "All Units" training
venues per year, where the entire Search and Rescue Detail comes
together to sharpen skills, update qualifications and practice on a
large-scale basis, the running of a search mission. Typically 70 to 90
people participate in the All Units sessions which can run through most
of a weekend. An All Units exercise might recreate a past search mission
or be entirely "fictional". It can include anything from downed airplane
scenarios to high angle rescues with patient packaging and ground teams
tracking "lost" adults or children. Personnel often find themselves
testing their training and resourcefulness to do anything from
extricating a trapped victim, to plucking an injured hiker from the face
of a cliff.
Assets used during an All Units exercise include horses, 4X4's, tracking
and trailing dogs, fixed wing aircraft of the Aero squadron, ASTREA, the
Border Patrol's BORSTAR team, the San Diego Mountain Rescue Team,
R.A.C.E.S., and support equipment such as Mobile Command 1 and the
Logistic Unit's chow wagon.
Click here to see the Academy (this PowerPoint presentation may take a
while to load)