The Search and Rescue program began in 1985 with agency support of a statewide training event organized by a small handful of volunteers active in SAR. Their goal was to bring forth a standard training platform to help unify the autonomous SAR organizations. From its humble beginnings the program has grown to develop standardized training in concert with the Virginia Search and Rescue Council, and to coordinate a SAR response at the request of local jurisdictions.
Search and rescue is divided into 4 elements according to the conditions and environment of where or how the incident has occurred.
- Aeronautical missions include downed or missing / overdue civil aviation aircraft missions, and emergency calls for help broadcast through an Emergency Distress Beacon. An EDB might originate from aircraft, marine craft or a personal locator beacon.
- Inland / Wilderness missions comprise the bulk of the agency’s response in support of local jurisdictions to help locate a lost or missing person. On average the agency will support 80-90 missions per year throughout the Commonwealth. Missing children and wandering Alzheimer’s/ dementia subjects comprise the top two demographics of missing person missions.
- Marine / Waterborne missions include distressed / sinking vessels, boating incidents, flooding, and swiftwater rescue incidents, which often result in a drowning.
- Urban Search and Rescue / disaster incidents are major events with significant impact to multiple citizens that may result in victims being stranded or trapped in collapsed structures or fallen debris.
State SAR assets respond to these incidents at the request of the local jurisdiction. Responding SAR organizations are those who are formally recognized by VDEM through a Memorandum of Understanding or other agreement. Response is coordinated through the Virginia Emergency Operations Center, which remains staffed around the clock.
In addition to SAR incidents within the Commonwealth, SAR assets are available to respond beyond Virginia in the event of a national level incident or a direct request from another state.
The SAR program provides specialized search and rescue training to police, fire-rescue, EMS, emergency managers, volunteer SAR responders, and others who might have a duty to respond to a SAR emergency. Training courses are based upon performance standards recommended by the Virginia Search and Rescue Council and adopted by the agency. VDEM does not charge for SAR training.