Ground Search and Rescue College

In 1985, the Virginia Department of Emergency Services sponsored the first SAR college ever held in Virginia.  The SAR college brought together members of volunteer search and rescue groups from across the Commonwealth for a two-weekend, 50-hour program that focused on both field and management skills.

Today, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management continues to build upon this success, providing an intensive program to develop and maintain a network of search and rescue response resources.

The GSAR is hosted by Hungry Mother State Park ( near Marion, Va. and is typically held late October and mid-November of each year.  The park provides a rustic setting in the mountains of southwestern Virginia, with more than 600 acres adjacent to National Forest lands.  Students are lodged in bunkhouse-style cabins, and meals are served buffet style at the dining lodge, just a short walk from the Hemlock Haven Conference Center (

The GSAR runs three field classes and one management class over two weekends.  The student makeup typically consists of police, fire and rescue, EMS, and volunteer search and rescue organizations from all across the Commonwealth.  Students will number about 80 with an instructor staff of 20.


Weekend 1


6-9 p.m. – Registration and check-in at the Hemlock Haven Conference Center (students receive cabin and classroom assignments)

7 p.m. – Opening session, with all students and staff in the main conference room.  Students are then dismissed to their perspective classrooms, where sessions begin with an introduction and pre-test.

9 p.m. – Classes conclude.


7 a.m. – Breakfast

8 a.m. – Classes begin

Noon- 1 p.m.  – Lunch

1-5 p.m. – Afternoon classes

5-6 p.m. – Dinner

6-9:30 p.m. – Evening classes

Sunday follows the same routine as Saturday, with the first half of training concluding by 4 p.m.

Weekend 2

The second weekend of training follows a similar routine, except that students are allotted more time during the dinner break on Saturday, as they will need extra time to prepare for the night exercise.  Students can expect to remain in the field until the exercise is completed, which is typically between midnight and 1 a.m.

On Sunday morning, the schedule is moved ahead one hour, with breakfast at 8 a.m. and an exercise debrief scheduled for 9 a.m.  Students are then dispersed to their individual classes, where they debrief issues that are specific to their training programs.

The classroom debriefs are followed by a course review before final testing begins.  Students must pass a written exam with a minimum score of 80% in addition to practical testing stations to certify in the field skills.

The SAR college concludes in its entirety by 4 p.m. on Sunday

This is the essential program format that has been taught since 1985.  Students who attend the GSAR will find their learning experiences remarkably similar to those who have gone before them, and those who will come after them.

The GSAR experience is the heart and soul of a unified state network of search and rescue responders.


Be ready. Be willing to help.

Virginia Disaster Relief Fund