Getting prepared for cave rescue coordination

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Getting prepared for cave rescue coordination

Postby Chads93GT » Sep 16, 2009 9:42 pm

I have a question for people who have been experienced in cave rescue's before.

I live In Perry County, Missouri. For those of you who are familiar, there are about 700 caves in Perry co. At least 100 more in Ste. Genevieve Co. More in Cape Girardeau County, Iron Co, Wayne co, Bollinger Co, etc. You get the idea, heavy cave density. What I have always wondered is, how do grotto's coordinate with the local authorities/paramedics in case there is an injury, kids get lost, etc. I started caving a little over a year ago after moving here, and as far as I know, there have only been a couple close calls around here.

I am going to assume, that I should check with the sheriff to see if the emergency phone number contact list is up to date, or that they still have it. Im sure that time has a way of things being lost, especially when people come and go from the sheriff's department. I know that current member emergency phone lists should be organized, as phone numbers (cell phones) have a tendency of changing, people move out of the area, etc.

What is the best way to make sure that the local police departments know who to call if there is ever a report of someone being lost in a cave, or worse, a serious injury? This isn't something that we generally talk about down here, we all simply know that it will be up to us to get our own asses out of a sling if something ever happens, as there aren't a lot of local cavers down here anymore. Meaning, there would be a long wait for more people to arrive that could help.

Any help would be appreciated. I just want to make sure that all the local departments in this area still know that we exist, and that we are the ones to call if some kids get lost in a cave, people get hurt in a cave, etc.


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Re: Getting prepared for cave rescue coordination

Postby Stridergdm » Sep 17, 2009 12:31 am

All excellent questions.

First, I'd contact Anmar, he's your NCRC regional coordinator. Contact list

He may be able to answer your questions with more details.

But generally you're on the right track. In my limited experience, the more closely you can work with the local authorities BEFORE a rescue the better. In almost all cases, (and local laws can differ) the sheriff's department, police, etc. have legal authority and responsibility for all rescues.

That means your grotto (and others) should be ready to call them (probably through 911) in the event of an emergency.

Now, ideally they will then call cavers via the call-out list and work with them to actually execute the rescue. (I've heard a few cases where the local Sheriff's department attempts the rescue themselves, that's generally a bad idea :-)

I'd also HIGHLY recommend you try to arrange for an OCR (Orientation to Cave Rescue). Get the local authorities involved.

Honestly, in many ways I almost find OCRs far more useful than the NCRC weeklongs (though go to those too! :-)

With an OCR, you get lots of people oriented towards an actual rescue. This can be very useful so that cavers and authorities can work together and recognize each others limits and abilities.

We I am, we're very fortunate. Our local Sheriff basically requires his team members to attend OCRs. He and some of his team are competent cavers. But many are not, but they at least now have an idea of what's involved in an actual rescue.

I definitely feel more comfortable knowing if I get called out and I see him there, that things are going to go well.

Good luck and hopefully all the preparation is never necessary.
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Re: Getting prepared for cave rescue coordination

Postby rmulder » Dec 3, 2009 5:17 am

Wow. This is a topic where I have an abundance of experience. This info should help.

Utah has many deep vertical alpine caves. They tend to be high in the mountains, very cold, and plenty wet. There was a time when caving incidents were occurring, but local rescue teams either could not, or would not, respond to handle the incidents. Some very motivated cavers took the initiative to become NCRC trained. Some even became instructors. They formed the Utah Cave Search & Rescue in 1988.

The UCS&R was simply a local version of what the NCRC is. We were a network of cave rescue resources, supplying manpower and equipment. I joined the UCS&R in 1990. I found that UCS&R members were trained well, and they were training often. Caving and mining incidents were occurring, and it was obvious that our skills were needed. We were not yet known around the state, so we made the contacts to offer our assistance. If I recall correctly, we were always refused. There was absolutely a climate of territorial ism and superiority. Who were we after-all, but a bunch of so called "wanna-bees".

Back in the day, if you had an emergency, you'd get out your grotto publication and begin calling all the rescue trained personnel. It occurred to me that this was not a good approach. I had business cards made up of the 6 top UCS&R personnel and distributed them amongst cavers and their families. I also created and distributed "Dispatch" forms. These forms contained information such as where the caver went, possible hazards, return time, etc. The form was to be kept with family or friends of the cavers. They had instructions to call rescue if there were no contact by a certain time. This all worked very well for a time.

One day an incident occurred. A caver involved called all 6 phone numbers. Being that cell phones were not yet popular, and during the holidays, no one answered. The system had failed. It was my system, so I felt horrible. I was determined to make it good. I rented a pager with a very specific phone number, 801-241-UCSR. I had new business cards made up with the one phone number, and re-distributed them. This was the One Stop Shopping phone number, and it would always be monitored. This was the 911 of Utah's cave rescue resource. Additionally, I sent letters to all the county sheriff's offices in the state. I let them know who we were and what we did. Enclosed, was a couple of the business cards.

We were no longer unknown, but we were still a bunch of so called yae-hoo wann-bees. Our day was coming however, and it did. A man disappeared in the mountains of Logan Canyon in Cache County in 1996. Cache County Sheriff's Office and their SAR team had searched the mountain the first day of the search. They did not find the missing subject, but they found an enormous amount of pits. They searched a few, but were grossly out tasked. The commanders met in an office that night to discuss their options. They decided to call on the assistance of the Utah Cave Search & Rescue. That next day, we impressed the hell out of them searching over 40 pits and caves. Ever since, they have been strong supporters of the UCS&R. But they were only one county.

We held cave rescue seminars similar to the NCRC weekend seminars. It was open to everyone, but I primarily focused on getting county SAR personnel from all over the state. This was an eye opener. Many of the people who had been judging us all these years were not much more than jeep posses. Some carried guns and knives into the caves for protection, but understood nothing of rope work. Still, the seminars accomplished 3 goals.
- Most importantly, it introduced the extreme complexities of cave rescue to the county SAR personnel, while showing them that their UCS&R hosts were very skilled at handling such tasks.
- Secondly, it gave great training to a large number of personnel from all over the state.
- Thirdly, it was a good fundraiser.

The seminars were huge hits. The attendees went home and advertised for us (on their own accord). I kept getting more requests for training, particularly by rescue teams, land management, and fire departments. Seminars were extremely tasking, so I scaled down the curriculum and taught to the various groups and teams during one day sessions. It became too much of a good thing. Our team was teaching to groups that just didn't need the training. Some of the agencies don't have caves in their jurisdictions, and why do scouts need cave rescue training? Cave rescue had gained popularity, and it became possible to choose our audience.

In Utah, it is the Sheriff's Offices that have jurisdiction over these rescues. Our team decided to focus on "joint trainings", meaning our team with a SAR team that has caves in their jurisdiction. Standard practice was to hold a 3 hour classroom session on a weekday followed by some kind of in-cave exercise or mock rescue on a Saturday. This would occur in a cave in their county, so it would further prepare them for an incident and work as a physical pre-plan. This was realistic training, but further: It allowed members from each team to become acquainted with members of the other team, their personalities, and their skills. The joint trainings have built friendships that stand years later. In most cases, we earned the trust and confidence of the agency team. But some were tougher than others.

Utah County has been the most resilient, yet we have worked with them more than any other. They told us years ago that they would not work with us if we were not an actual team. They wanted to know that if they called the UCS&R, they would get a specific set of cave rescuers that they knew and could trust. We decided to turn our group of cave rescue trained cavers into an actual team. We established policy and procedure, required our members to maintain specific gear, attend trainings, and conduct testing for proficiency. This worked for some time, but it had some implications. There were good people that we lost because they did not have the ability or desire to train on a regular basis. We held a meeting/classroom training once a month, in addition to a field training once a month. That built a good team for awhile, and we assisted on a number of searches or rescues over the years. Many times, we just assisted another agency, or they assisted us. We networked with each other, and things were going well - although spanning long amounts of time from incident to incident. Utah County worked with us, but only because they had to. It was always the same thing: someone stuck in Nutty Putty. And it always took one of our skinny cavers to get them out.

Over the years, many caves have been gated, and interest in caving had diminished. Cave rescues seemed to be a thing of the past in Utah. The UCS&R team more or less dissolved. November 24th of this year changed all of that. John Jones became stuck in Nutty Putty and Utah County mobilized for the rescue. Again, skinny cave rescuers were needed. UCS&R was again asked to assist. Everyone knows that we were unable to save John. Regardless, the operation was impressive. UCS&R morphed back into a resource network, and it worked just fine. Our relationship with Utah County is better than it has ever been, in great part because of the great display of skill by the cave rescuers. UCS&R doesn't need to be a "team" any more, so long as the high level of skill and resources are maintained. The Nutty Putty John Jones incident has rejuvenated the interest with fellow rescue teams and many cavers to update their cave rescue training. This is an opportunity that we will take advantage of.

So, I hope my story has been helpful. In a short list, I suggest:
Look and act like a proficient team.
then conduct joint trainings or seminars
have one contact number that is well known and ALWAYS monitored
build the relationships

Best of luck to you.
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Re: Getting prepared for cave rescue coordination

Postby Chads93GT » Dec 3, 2009 8:31 am

Thanks for the tips. I forgot I made this thread because no one responded except Stridergdm
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Re: Getting prepared for cave rescue coordination

Postby Rick Brinkman » Dec 3, 2009 12:29 pm

WOW....thanks for the info and history. That helps a lot.

Back in the day, if you had an emergency, you'd get out your grotto publication and begin calling all the rescue trained personnel. It occurred to me that this was not a good approach.

That's not "back in the day" here in Montana. It's what we have. We're overdue to change that.
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Re: Getting prepared for cave rescue coordination

Postby Evan G » Feb 12, 2010 2:56 pm

Rick Brinkman wrote:WOW....thanks for the info and history. That helps a lot.

Back in the day, if you had an emergency, you'd get out your grotto publication and begin calling all the rescue trained personnel. It occurred to me that this was not a good approach.

That's not "back in the day" here in Montana. It's what we have. We're overdue to change that.

Here in Wyoming we don't even have a publication or viable grottoes. I talked to my friend on the Northern Bighorn SAR, he does not think they have the equipment to do a cave rescue anymore. They did have a cave rescue cache at one point but it seems to have disappeared. Basically it is back to cave rescue 101, self-rescue...
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