Search and Rescue (SAR) Program

Search and Rescue (SAR) in the State of Washington is governed primarily by the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) chapter 38.52. This law defines search and rescue, assigns responsibilities for SAR, establishes the position and duties of the state Coordinator for SAR Operations (SAR coordinator), and establishes the extensive liability protection and compensation program which protects SAR volunteers in the State of Washington. Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 118-04 implements the provisions of RCW 38.52 by establishing the procedures and qualifications for registration of "emergency workers" (volunteers) and explains how the compensation program is administered.

The responsibility for search and rescue* rests with the "local chief law enforcement officer" (usually the County Sheriff). Local directors of emergency management coordinate support for SAR operations in their jurisdictions and register volunteers in accordance with WAC 188-04. The state SAR Coordinator is responsible for resource coordination, multi-jurisdiction operations coordination, and administration of the Emergency Worker Program. There are 600-700 SAR missions a year in the state.

When appropriate, the coordinator manages the state's role in Emergency Support Function (ESF) 9, Urban Search and Rescue (National Response Plan) and may activate the state’s Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) for operations coordination in large and/or multi-jurisdictional SAR missions.

Search and Rescue resources within the state come primarily from citizen volunteers, more than 5,000 strong, who cooperate with local law enforcement, giving of their time and personal resources to train and to search for and rescue lost and injured people. These volunteer SAR organizations also form the foundation of any community's response to disaster.

The initial point of contact for local SAR coordinators or emergency management offices when requesting additional SAR mission resources is the State Emergency Operations Officer (SEOO). Authorization for the use of the statewide SAR, SAR2 and SAR3 frequencies can be viewed at SAR Frequency Authorization Letter (PDF).

*State law assigns responsibility for air search for downed or missing civil aircraft to the Department of Transportation, Aviation Division (RCW 47.68). Upon location of the downed aircraft the incident becomes a land SAR operation under the direction and control of the chief law enforcement officer in whose jurisdiction the incident site is located.

For additional information, please contact Chris Long, State SAR Coordinator, at 253.512.7024.

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