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Discussion of medical or rescue topics related to climbing and mountaineering.

Re: Rescues

Postby mattyj » Thu Jul 19, 2012 7:03 pm

A5RP wrote:Funds are are pre allocated to the local Parks SAR from that specific Park's entrance fees.

North Cascades National Park has some pretty epic backcountry terrain and people do get lost/injured in there. It does not charge an entrance fee. How do you think they pay for park activities, including SAR?

User fees make up 6% of the NPS budget. Given the vast resources that get pulled into a SAR (LE rangers, naturalist/climbing rangers, sar-siters, contract helicopter, helitack) some of which wouldn't even be there in the first place were it not for federal dollars, I think it's a bit of a stretch to hold the NPS up as a template for 100% user fee funded SAR. Without those tax dollars the parks would look very, very different.

Assuming we went with a statewide use fee for SAR, you still haven't explained who you think should pay it. Everyone who sets foot on USFS/BLM land? Everyone going above 10k? Alzheimer's patients? Families with small children who might wander into the woods? Would Steve Fossett have paid into it, since Mono SAR was involved with his recovery?
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Re: Rescues

Postby mrchad9 » Thu Jul 19, 2012 7:20 pm

mattyj wrote:mrchad9 - There's a big bucket of money. Some of it comes from park entry fees, some from backcountry permits, some from concession fees. A SAR comes up, so you pull a wad of cash out of the bucket and use it to pay for helicopter fuel. Who paid for the helicopter?

Short of making all federal lands free to access, which is an entirely separate discussion, how do you propose to make NPS SAR taxpayer funded as opposed to user-fee funded? There is no "SAR Fee" built into your $20 entrance fee or $80 yearly pass, it's just another budget item - currently one that works out to 18c/visitor.

Poor wording in my earlier post - I didn't mean to imply that no one shares your opinion, only that arguing for no-charge rescue does not imply a stance on how rescue ultimately gets funded (user fees v. tax dollars). But it seems kind of silly to argue about which funding source is paying for which budget item.

I should clarify... I think the current system is working fine, with the exception that I do not think SAR crews should continue giving rides to people who are not injured or in an emergency situation. That isn't a rescue, it is just a ride at others' expense. They should be told "This isn't a rescue, it is a ride, and if we take you down you will be billed for it. Here is an estimate of the cost... want to go?"

But I continue to believe all rescues should be free. And the general public and most local authorities agree. You are correct, there is a large bucket of money, and it is largely taxpayer funded, but some comes from other sources. I think the current structure is fine whatever it is. Yes I agree the money is fungible, and it is silly to argue which is paying for which. (and I think entry for US residents into national parks should be free too)

As a side note, there are occasional comments I sometimes hear (not necessarily here) about such-and-such park in the US stretching out and billing someone for a rescue. I have yet to hear about anyone who actually bothered to pay such a bill. And I would advise anyone else against paying it. Rescues are free.
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Re: Rescues

Postby Scott » Thu Jul 19, 2012 11:01 pm

For anyone who has been on a SAR crew, what percentages of the rescues do you say were actually needed?

The times I went out weren’t really emergencies.

Once an entire Boy Scout troop was missing. We found them, but they weren’t even lost. They spotted a bear at their backcountry camp and the scoutmaster made all the scouts throw their food in the lake. They then waited around an extra day for “rescue” because they did not want to leave the tents with a bear around (never mind the bear was probably long gone the moment it saw the people).

I am rather amazed at the number of people whom get “lost” on places like Lone Peak and Mt Olympus (Wasatch Mountains). Both peaks literally rise straight out of the metro area with a population of one million+. Sometimes people lose the trail and have to be rescued. Both mountains face the city, so even if you lose a trail and even if it’s night you just have to head downhill to that big glowing thing with all the city lights.

A random example:

http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/54100 ... d.html.csp

Really, how do you get “lost” on a mountain facing the city?
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Re: Rescues

Postby colinr » Fri Jul 20, 2012 1:26 am

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Re: Rescues

Postby Z-Man » Fri Jul 20, 2012 7:30 am

Scott wrote:For anyone who has been on a SAR crew, what percentages of the rescues do you say were actually needed?

Depends on what you mean by needed, but I'd say 1/3 of the time the party involved would probably eventually make it out on their own with no serious adverse consequences to their health. Lucky for them the people who go get them do so as volunteers and so the cost per rescue is very small compared to say rescues performed by the NPS, wherein the responders are paid professionals, and the cost is much larger.

mrchad9 wrote:I do not think SAR crews should continue giving rides to people who are not injured or in an emergency situation.

Luckily this doesn't happen all that often in my experience, despite what seems to have been the case 30 years ago in california. Regardless noone has suggested an answer to the main objection to charge-for-rescue. Current SAR system relies on volunteers to keep costs low, volunteers rely on good samaritan laws to operate without more extensive training and liability coverage, good samaritan laws as written would not apply in a charge-for-rescue system. Charge for rescue = less to none volunteers = big-time increase in cost.

Mattyj's point is a great one and no one has come up with an answer for yet. If you are going to charge a user fee for sar per the NPS and Parks Canada model, how do you make sure all the users are paying into it? Presumably in the PNW these costs would get wrapped into sno-parks, NW forest pass, and discovery pass, which would then give the money to the responsible agency: the BLM, USFS, State park, or whoever who would then operate a professional rescue service using those funds.

It's worth pointing out again that sar services provided by these agencies would cost more. From MRNP, http://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/u ... -final.pdf lists 2011 sar costs as: $130,398 of overtime fees, $49,100 of Climbing ranger salaries thought to be related to sar(10% of climbing ranger duty x 491,000 annual salary), $1800 volunteers in park related to sar(10% of volunteer climbing ranger duty x 18000 volunteer climbing ranger cost) = $181,298 / 33 sar ops = $5493 per op. This does not include most of their aviation cost as that is provided at no charge to the park by JBLM. The operating budget of most of the SAR groups in my county is between $5000 and $25000 per year, let's give it a very high average and say $20000 per year for the eight groups in King County Search and Rescue for $160000 / 70 missions = $2285 per rescue. This again does not include aviation costs. Keep in mind that the operating budgets of the King County Search and Rescue groups is entirely donation-based, so are not spread among taxpayers and hopefully much to the happiness of those who are in favor of charge-for-rescue are most well-supported by former clients and their families. This also is skewed as MRNP can keep people staged 24/7 in a confined area where rescues are relatively common whereas costs of professional rescue in King County would almost certainly go up as it is a much larger area, and rescues are less common.

A5RP wrote:Excellent point! $100 a year for SAR insurance. Hell, that is the price of new Alien and a couple of biners.

Please, someone tell me that is not affordable.

It all goes to a central State SAR fund managed by the State's Office of Emergency Services.

I am against rescue insurance funding private, professional rescue companies. I have in the past volunteered for a group called Helping At Risk Kids which takes less privileged youth outdoors. The ability to accomplish this would be severely restricted if, in order to guarantee the liability of every participant, we had to come up with $100 each. I in general want to reduce the cost of visiting the mountains, this does not do that.

What happens to this money, does it get distributed to each sar team? If so, again how do you get around the good samaritan laws which only cover volunteer rescuers if they are not financially benefiting from their services? Cost of rescue would go up 2-3x without volunteer sar as I have already pointed out. Also pointed out by mattyj, this is not what was originally proposed. Doesn't this encourage reckless behavior since people are going think they have a $100 get out of jail free pass now? It is not known widely now that rescues are free. Most common question I get from subjects, "How much is this going to cost me?" I personally don't think this will actually make a difference, but regardless it will not encourage the personal responsibility that people seem to be after.

I keep waiting for a cheaper and more equitable system to be proposed, haven't heard it yet.
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Re: Rescues

Postby mvs » Fri Jul 20, 2012 8:29 am

BTW, for residents of the EU, mountain rescue in an EU country is a right and you don't have to pay, at least if it was an accident. So the point about France ("socialist country") might not be correct. Deeply willful stupidity might be different, but happily my own experience with that has been in private with no external agencies involved. :)
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Re: Rescues

Postby Kahuna » Fri Jul 20, 2012 2:18 pm

mvs wrote:BTW, for residents of the EU, mountain rescue in an EU country is a right and you don't have to pay, at least if it was an accident. So the point about France ("socialist country") might not be correct. Deeply willful stupidity might be different, but happily my own experience with that has been in private with no external agencies involved. :)

You are absolutely correct Michael regarding the "right" issue.

BUT, rescue insurance is required for the members of the different EU Alpine Clubs for just the reason you mentioned, "if it was an accident".

In many of the locations in the EU, full on post incident investigations are conducted by the local police. If the results of the investigation are deemed negligent due to a slew of obvious reasons, the party involved is held financially responsible for the operation required to assist them. Unlike here in the CONUS, the local gov'ts do get their money. Accountability for ones negligent actions is in fact a standard in most locations in the EU.

I work with two UIAGM Cert'd guides that are fully licensed to guide in Chamonix and throughout Switzerland. They both mandate that their perspective clients purchase International Globe Rescue Helicopter Insurance for any climb in either location. It is part of their license requirements.

This is also a requirement for any perspective client wishing to participate on any scheduled adventure trip in Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Africa, Russia and Nepal.

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Re: Rescues

Postby surgent » Fri Jul 20, 2012 6:36 pm

Scott wrote: For anyone who has been on a SAR crew, what percentages of the rescues do you say were actually needed?

I have no hard numbers and it's been a number of years since I was in SAR, but in broadest terms, it seemed we'd be told to stand down about a third of the time after a call out. Usually the subject egressed on his own, or there was just general confusion somewhere along the line. It was not uncommon for me to get a callout, get my stuff loaded, get rolling on the freeway, get 80 miles driven, then get the "all clear" page. Obviously, we'd be relieved that it was a false alarm, meaning that no one was hurt, stranded or dead. Of the rescues we actually performed, maybe half were "real" rescues, the other half cases where the subject could have walked out on his own after awhile.

Bear in mind the mental state of a lost hiker, someone who hikes occasionally and may not be an expert at back-country survival, navigation or bivvying. Even though conditions may be good, their mindset may not be. We learned not to judge in cases such as this. Being lost can be truly terrifying, even for someone experienced. Add an order of magnitude for someone less experienced.

Also, we'd rather have someone call in an overdue hiker sooner than later. It takes a couple hours from original call into 911 until everyone is on scene. Often, the hiker just emerges on his own in the meantime. It is always a case of "better safe than sorry". When I hike, I leave a map with my wife with my route highlighted, plus the directions to the TH, the county I will be in, my truck make/model, and my expected exit time. I tell my wife that if she does not hear from me at a certain time, say 8 p.m. that night, something is definitely wrong and to call 911. So far that hasn't happened yet, but accidents do happen and these little proactive measures could make a huge difference.

Scott wrote: Once an entire Boy Scout troop was missing. We found them, but they weren’t even lost. They spotted a bear at their backcountry camp and the scoutmaster made all the scouts throw their food in the lake. They then waited around an extra day for “rescue” because they did not want to leave the tents with a bear around (never mind the bear was probably long gone the moment it saw the people).

Now that's a case where someone from the troop should be cited and made to pay expenses. Then public humiliation.
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Re: Rescues

Postby colinr » Sat Jul 21, 2012 1:00 am

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Re: Rescues

Postby Marmaduke » Tue Jul 31, 2012 6:14 am

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Re: Rescues

Postby MoapaPk » Tue Jul 31, 2012 6:36 am

The obvious answer: magic beans.
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Re: Rescues

Postby jdenyes » Sat Sep 15, 2012 11:57 am

Not so sure about the right and free cost in the EU. Everyone I know from Germany, Austria, and France as well as Switzerland has specific mountain insurance including costs for rescue. In the best cases, it is built into their mountain association fees. Some countries have it included in with health insurance, but in every instance of that, it is private, selected, chosen health insurance not state provided health insurance.

In switzerland, if REGA comes and rescues you, you get a bill for 10,000. Injured, sick, healthy, lost, whatever. And trust me, the Swiss collect. They will also tell you "hey buddy, its 10 degrees, you're not going to die overnight, we have more injured people somewhere else, see you tomorrow". But, for a low low "donation" of 30 francs, they will thank you for your generosity by rescuing you for free. Needless to say, most people have the REGA card. But, some specific locations like Zermat have their own helicopter rescue system, and then if you don't have the right mountain insurance, you will pay.

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Re: Rescues

Postby SEKIPilot » Sat Nov 17, 2012 9:48 pm

Just joined the summitpost and stumbled into this discussion. I have found my way into quite a few post in the past regarding rescues and have noticed a lot of misinformation or lack of understanding when it comes to rescues, and in particular, helicopter rescues. I have worked as a civilian helicopter rescue resource during winter months working directly with county sheriff SAR teams and as a civilian contractor to the USDA Forest Service and USDOI Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service flying various exclusive use helicopter contracts.

For starters, the biggest influence on a rescue, and conversely the cost of a rescue, is land ownership. As has already been pointed out, volunteer SAR teams, CHP and National Guard do not charge for rescues, while EMS helicopters most definitely will. If the rescue takes place on federal land and is managed by the Forest Service or BLM, local county agencies are responsible for SAR's. The major drawback to this is that not every county agency has a SAR team, and most Forest Service and BLM contract helicopters are not equipped for any type of specialized rescue (i.e. hoist or short-haul) and the associated helitack crews are not trained for SAR. SAR specialists will be flown aboard contract helicopters, as well as patients, but only if a civilian helicopter resource (i.e. EMS or private company) is not available - there is a non-competition clause with civilian resources/helicopter operators. The flip side of this is that not many EMS programs are equipped or capable of preforming SAR's (too much time spent away from patient transport) or have helicopters capable of technical/specialized rescues (hoist/short-haul). This is usually where the Coast Guard or National Guard helicopter comes in, or in states such as California, CHP or CalFire which have hoist-equipped helicopters. A fair number of county agencies, and a couple of city agencies, also have hoist equipped helicopters and even fewer agencies have the training to perform short-haul. If this is starting to sound more than a little complicated, it should because it is. The most challenging of all of this is throwing in the high elevations that some of these rescues take place - this eliminates a majority of the available helicopters from being able to actually perform the rescue because it is beyond the physical performance of the helicopter itself.

The National Park Service is a completely different situation. National Parks fall exclusively under National Park Service control with state, county and city boundaries and jurisdictions ending at the National Park boundary. The National Park Service is responsible for SAR's within it's own boundaries and most of the National Parks, at least in the western US, have their own SAR teams and contract helicopters that are able to perform specialized rescues (short-haul) and have helicopters that are physically able to perform at very high elevations. Unfortunately contract helicopters are not on contract 365 days out of the year, so some of the specialized rescue techniques are likewise not always available. Honestly, the least complicated place to require a rescue is in a National Park (also the cheapest).

Certain states, such as Colorado, sell rescue cards to back country users, usually for about $20 dollars. A fair number of people wait until they actually need to be rescued, then first call a friend working in a store that sells rescue cards to back date a card for them, and then they call 911. As already mentioned, a rescue card just insures the owner of the card against incurring costs associated with the SAR. Along with the rental/purchase of a PLB or Spot device, rescue insurance can be purchased through the paid PLB/Spot service that usually covers up to $10,000/year, which covers two SAR's per year at $5,000 each.

Having spent this past season flying for Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park (SEKI), ten years for the Forest Service/BLM in ID, UT, CA and MI, and 10 years heli-skiing in ID and CO, the National Park Service has the best SAR program available to the public when it comes to federal lands. It was, unfortunately, a very busy SAR season with an above average number of SAR's, body recoveries and short-hauls.

There is no such thing as a free rescue, since even the National Guard is funded through our taxes and volunteer SAR teams still have to pay for their own gear. There also is no easy way to pay for SAR's, but it seems like there should be a way through user fees or rescue insurance to help offset and/or pay for the cost of a rescue. One potential drawback to such a rescue system is that people might come to expect a rescue at any cost if they are paying a user fee/insurance, which could be a dangerous assumption to make.

Great discussion and sorry to ramble on for so long!

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