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


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


Now that you’ve created the checklist, complete with initial assessments, plans, and resources, you are ready to begin the Search aspect of SAR.


It will be imperative to recall that Search can be broken down into two processes:


  1. Search techniques adapted to the scene size-up & assessment
  2. Locating victims


The CERT participant manual discusses voids or spaces in collapsed structures where victims might be entrapped, such as these images:

Lean-To Void

House Collapse

Lean-To 2

Truck Sylmar Quake

Haiti Pancake

Remember, pancake voids are outside of the Light SAR training of CERT volunteers. These kind of structural collapses are considered heavy damage and should not be approached by CERT members. Lean-To Voids, if observed, are also structurally unstable. It is recommended that SAR volunteers take valuables notes and pass that information on to professional responders that are trained and able to approach.


Emphasis is made with CERT members to gather necessary information from bystanders or witnesses who are familiar with the structures in question. Those who are familiar with the building can provide information which might increase the responder’s ability to safely rescue trapped victims. Such information might include:


  • Likely number of victims in the structure
  • Potential location of victim(s)
  • Floor plan(s)/Layout of building
  • First-hand observations (i.e. smoke, smell natural gas, cracking of wooden beams, etc.)
  • Observation of victims exiting building
  • Entry/Exit routes of the building


It is most beneficial to take brief and accurate notes. This will allow the information that you gather to be passed on to another in your absence. Simply committing details to memory may be necessary if resources for note-taking are not available. Be sure to verbally communicate pertinent info to your partner.


Search Methodology


In CERT, rescuers use a methodology that will allow for others to know the location of rescuers. This methodology also prevents double-work from occurring. Duplication of effort wastes time and resources and is easily avoided through proper communication.


House Marking


The above marking is the marking system that was used by rescue teams in response to Katrina’s tragedy. The principle of info is what we use when we are conducting SAR operations in structures. Before entering into a structure, volunteers must determine if it appears to be structurally safe or not in order to search for victims. If it is determined that the structure can be entered to search for victims, the team will make this first mark before entering & record the date & time of entry:


Initial SAR Mark

Once you have completed searching for and extracting any victims & your team has completely exited the structure you will add the crossing leg of the X, and you will then indicate the hazards present or NO ENTRY for unsafe grounds (3 o’clock quadrant), number of live & dead victims found (6 o’clock quadrant), identify your team (9 o’clock quadrant), and write the time that your SAR efforts in that structure were completed (12 o’clock quadrant):


Completed SAR Mark

The matter of accessing & transporting victims will be covered in our next post Search & Rescue (SAR) Part 3/3: Transporting Victims.


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