CERT: Search & Rescue (SAR) Part 2a/3: Physical Search


Search & Rescue Size-up Checklist

Gather Facts

The following are common questions that many CERT field handbooks suggest as you consider your SAR deployment:

  • How will the time of day/day of the week/weather affect your SAR efforts?
  • Do you know the type of structure(s) you are dealing with & their construction?
  • Determine if the structures are occupied, by how many people, vulnerable populations such as young, elderly, incapacitated, etc.?
  • Any obvious hazards such as HAZMAT, electrical, water, etc.?

Assess and Communicate the Damage

Take a “hot lap” around the structure to determine:

  • Any clear signs of damage that will limit your CERT team’s capabilities?
  • Are normal communications channels functioning

Consider Probabilities

You must consider that life-threatening hazards simply remain to be discovered, rather than determine if there are any at all:

  • What are the potential life-threatening hazards & where are they located?
  • Try to determine likely potential risks or disaster activities that can impact personal safety.

Assess Your Own Situation

It is absolutely critical that you conduct a quick but accurate assessment or your resources:

  • What resources (human & equipment) are available for you to attempt SAR?

Establish Priorities

Appropriately established priorities will offer the greatest outcome for the greatest number of victims. Conversely, priorities that are poorly set will likely result in preventable losses:

  • Can your CERT team safely attempt SAR?
  • Are there any other immediate needs which deserve first-priority?

Make Decisions

Decisions constantly need to be made as part of the continuum of response. The ability to maximize the efficiency of resources will provide the best outcomes possible:

  • Where will the deployment of available resources do the most good while maintaining an adequate margin of safety?

Develop a Plan of Action

Now that decisions affecting resources and responder safety have been established, it is time to deploy personnel and the resources they’ll need:

  • Determine how personnel and other resources should be deployed.

Take Action

  • Execute your Plan of Action

Evaluate Progress

Acting on your plans requires constant review and evolution so as to adapt to an ever-changing environment and personnel. Responder safety is paramount. It is imperative for responders to not get fall into the trap of “tunnel vision”. This refers to a mindset that de-escalates the actual threat simply because more responding personnel and resources arrive on scene.

  • Continually size-up the situation to identify changes in the scope of the problem, the safety risks, and resource availability.
  • Adjust strategies & tactics as necessary.


Part 2b/3 will discuss some details in conducting the physical aspect of Search Operations.

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