Wilderness Search and Rescue Team, Also known as Wilderness Rescue was formed in 1979 to assist conservation and law enforcement agencies in searches for lost persons in the forest and wilderness areas of New York State. The This non-profit organization is made up of volunteers from Onondaga County who receive intense training to provide them with the necessary skills to be part of an organized search.
Our personnel go through an extensive probationary training program. During this program they are thoroughly trained in how to use a topographic map and compass, taught what clothing is appropriate for search missions in all weather conditions, how to search effectively in a grid pattern, how to work with helicopter resources and basics of wilderness survival and tracking. They are taught the Incident Command System also.
The team conducts 2 training drills per month for all its personnel. These are held on the second Sunday and the last Wednesday of each month. Topics cover the full spectrum of skills necessary to search and rescue missions. Besides this training, our dog handlers must work with their dogs daily and our human trackers also log many extra hours of training.
The Wilderness Search and Rescue Team also belongs to the New York State Federation of Search and Rescue Teams. This is a statewide organization of 20 search teams with mutual aid agreements. Membership to this organization provides a large pool of trained search and rescue volunteers and insurance coverage for all Federation personnel. Twice each year the Federation holds a training conference for its members. All the member teams are better able to communicate and work together as a result.
Mantracking or Sign Cutting
Tracking is the only physical evidence resource available to SAR missions. Trained human trackers are a primary, immediate response resource for SAR managers to establish (1) bona fides of a reported missing person incident, (2) factually establish the Point-Last-Seen, (3) determine the direction of travel, (4) continue a physical evidence pursuit of the missing person's travel. Tracking is the most overlooked investigative tool for crime scene incidents!
Tracking is simply detecting and following the sign left by human passage. Every human leaves sign. The job of a tracker or sign cutter is to detect that sign, correctly interpret it and communicate what they have found to others and follow that sign until the lost person is found. Tracking can be done in all weather conditions, day or night. In any particular circumstance it is best to let trackers make the decision as to whether tracking will be effective. As Ab Taylor, a modern master at tracking, has said having a non-tracker decide whether tracking will work is like having a painter decide whether or not surgery is required.
At Wilderness Search and Rescue Team we work under the idea that not everyone needs to be a tracker but every member must be track aware. That means that all members have had some exposure to tracking and sign cutting. The team conducts on-going training for all of its members in the skill of tracking. Two of our members have received certification from Universal Tracking Services and a third is in the process of doing so.
Specialty Skills and Equipment
Many of our members are EMT's with extensive volunteer service with other emergency service agencies. Two of our personnel have received training from Universal Tracking Services and perform as trackers. Recently our team received a large grant for communications equipment. As a result we now operate a communications command post that enables us to talk to virtually any agency in New York State. We have several licensed HAM Radio operators on our team. This, together with our extensive radio communications system, gives us outstanding abilities as a communications resource for any interagency incident.