Often when people imagine a scenario of being lost a vision enters their mind of search and rescue teams with helicopters and teams of men combing the wilderness in search of them. They imagine a dedicated individual who is in control with multiple agencies under their fingertips and the resources to get the job done and bring you home. The sad reality is that in many cases resources can be limited and time can be a major factor.
There are no Federal Agencies tasked with search and rescue of those who become lost in the wilderness. In fact there is no Federal oversight at all. The one exception to this rule is if and when there may be a crime involved. Each state has jurisdiction over the lands within its borders and these states will dictate the resources that will be used in these situations. Yet few states have standards for search and rescue.
When an individual goes missing quite often it is a local issue and you are depending upon local resources. With this can come a very wide spectrum of capabilities and individual training. The Sheriff of the county in which you become lost may be the highest ranking individual which overseas search and rescue. This can mean very limited resources in poorer locations and potentially individuals who have not specialized in this work.
When there are limited resources the most critical aspect that can be affected besides manpower and training is the amount of time which they have to find you. The more dependent upon volunteers the search is means the less time which people may be looking for you. Eventually people will need to return to their jobs and their life. Searches become smaller covering less ground and as time passes support begins to dwindle.
Resources for search and rescue are limited not only based upon funding and manpower but at times also jurisdiction. It took the Good Samaritan Search and Recovery Act of 2013 to allow faster access to the wilderness under control by the Federal Government. Qualified volunteer search and rescue teams are normally the backbone of such operations and issues such as insurance delayed the ability to respond quickly. Before this act by Congress red tape would slow the search efforts endangering lives, and in some cases had this been in place already it could have saved lives. Despite this act there is still critical time which is lost as after the paperwork is filed they still must wait 48 hours before they can begin searching.
After knowing the information as I have laid out one can come to appreciate the necessity of informing family or friends as to what ones plans may be when visiting the wilderness. It is imperative to inform others as to where you are going, how long you will be at different locations along your journey, and when you should be expected to return. If you are planning an extended trek in the wild it may be beneficial to do more than take your cell phone. Acquire a satellite phone or a GPS beacon. Put all the advantages to your favor that you can.
If things go wrong you want to give all the information that you can to those who would search for you. You do not need to be hiking the Appalachian Trail in order to need such items. If your job requires you to travel long distances through wilderness or if you take a weekend getaway to canoe or raft, it can save your life and the lives of those with you.
There are no official statistics counting those who go missing and are never found. The statistics which do exist are numbers collected by individuals who have the passion for such work in an attempt to promote safety. CanAm is one of those such groups which consist mostly of retired police officers and qualified search and rescue individuals. Some believe that there are those who do not want official statistics due to the potential impact it would have on income to the National Parks system. While many may have their theories as to why this may be we must live with an understanding of self accountability and responsibility.
Ultimately we are the ones who are responsible in educating ourselves, knowing our skill sets for the wilderness, and while having fun we must also be safe. While I am not an advocate for more oversight from any Federal Agency I do believe that if we accept proper responsibility for ourselves we can minimize the dangers to us in the wild. The best prevention is education and planning.
The necessity for greater resources allowing for more effective search and rescue is growing as more people go to the wilderness each year. Despite the structure of this system being more localized in nature for some states we can help these teams by being aware of our surroundings and reaching out to those that we meet along our paths.