BARSTOW - Helicopters buzzed over head, one landing on a near by baseball diamond. Dogs canvassed the area with their noses glued to the grass. Search and rescue crews, some decked out in bright orange shirts and fire-fighter-style turnouts, yanked on ropes tied around the trunks of trees.

But no one was lost.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, search and rescue and emergency crews from across California, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico and Oregon converged on the Barstow Community College campus - some even set up camp for the weekend - for a three-day training conference known as SAR City. The conference, now in its 35th year, features more than 50 classes and draws about 400 people, coordinator Daryl Schendel said.

"It started as training for our team, and other teams were invited, and it just grew out of that," Schendel said. "It's not just geared for search and rescue but more toward emergency personnel."

Class offered throughout the weekend included hazardous material and medical certification courses, rope rescues, proper fitness and rescue techniques, urban search and rescue and even a field course on identifying edible plants. Instructors from sheriff's departments, search and rescue teams and other emergency service organization from across the West Coast taught students on the latest developments in search and rescue - global positioning satellite systems and satellite phones - and tried and tested techniques such as dog tracking and human tracking. Schendel said technology, like cell phones and GPS, have slowed the need for search and rescue crews and make the job a bit easier.

Bob Cowan, who teaches a map reading course at the conference, agreed that technology has helped but stressed the importance of learning to properly read a map.

"A lot of people just don't seem to understand it and see how valuable it is," he said.
Cowan has been coming to SAR City for 20 years but started doing search and rescue in the 1960s. He said the problem solving involved in approaching new rescue situations keeps him probing the wilderness for lost hikers and trapped off-roaders.

"It's something different. Every mission is different," he said. "To me, that's exciting."

Lori Wells, a dog trainer from the Los Angeles area, said the conference allows her and other search and rescue crew members to share the solutions they tried during the past year. She said depending on weather, time of day or type of area, every search and rescue could be completely different.

"It's a great opportunity to gather all aspects of search and rescue, to share ideas, share things that have happened in the last year," she said. "So much happens. You run into so many scenarios that you don't necessarily train for."

While much of the conference focuses on wilderness search and rescue, a handful of courses taught people how to handle a search and rescue situation inside a city. Christopher Young, a member of the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department, started his course on urban search and rescue with a newscast from a search for an 82-year-old man who had wandered off and gotten lost in the city of Oakley, near San Francisco. The video showed search and rescue crews using dogs and other techniques commonly thought confined to forest, mountain and desert searches. He said that when in the wilderness, search and rescue crews must pay attention to the terrain, the weather, the presence of animals and other factors.

"Urban environments have their own dangers," Young said.

Those dangers, he said, include boarded up buildings, utility easements, buildings under construction, parades and other public gatherings. When he asked the 20-plus audience how many had been involved in an urban search, only a handful raised their hands. Schendel, however, said the average search and rescue crew needs to be prepared for urban environments. He said Barstow's Desert Rescue Squad has assisted with a few searches within the city.

"There's going to be a disaster; there's going to be an earthquake," Schendel said. "If something happens urbanwise, everyone's going to be called. As search and rescue, we can't be narrow minded."

Cowan said search and rescue crews often work with law enforcement and other public safety crews during an emergency. He senses more cooperation in the works as the federal government attempts to consolidate safety organizations. Search and rescue crews, however, maintain a different mindset on the job, according to Cowan.

"Law enforcement is always looking for the bad guy," he said. "We're looking for someone who has made a mistake or had an accident...We want to go out and find the missing person."

Cowan said search and rescue crews depend on law enforcement to intervene in potentially criminal situations. Many times in Barstow, the Desert Rescue Squad will team up with deputies from the Barstow sheriff's station to search for wanted suspects or fugitives who have taken refuge in the desert.

Contact the writer: (760) 256-4123 or aaron_aupperlee@link.freedom.com


Staying Safe Daryl Schendel said search and rescue crews preach three guidelines to make the searching and rescuing a bit easier

1 - Tell someone where you're going and what time you'll be back. Don't deviate from that plan

2 - If you're with a vehicle, stay with the vehicle. They are easier to spot than wandering humans.

3 - Don't go out unless you're prepared. For many in the desert, this means bringing extra water.