Searcher Spotlight: Lisa McGraw

She claims it was “almost heaven” for her first 21 years. Though it may also apply to her state of mind, what Lisa McGraw was referring to is West Virginia, where she grew up and also where she studied computer science in college (WVU).

Then, before coming to California in 1997, she lived for a spell in Washington, D.C.; North Carolina; Munich, Germany; and near Atlanta, Georgia. She worked as a computer programmer for GEICO and AT&T before turning her attention to her family (three kids) and to becoming a “volunteer extraordinaire.”

In fact, SAR, wasn’t her first gig on the work-for-free spectrum. She also worked in schools, churches, and with Scouts. She tutored adult literacy and she answered the crisis line for Tri-Valley Haven. Then, in January 2010, she became a SAR team member.

Lisa loves to travel and enjoys the outdoors, and lists listening to music in Ireland, touring ancient Grecian ruins and rafting down the Colorado River as some of her various adventures combining both pleasures. Her family of six includes husband, three adult children and two (spoiled, she says) cats.

Like her cats, Lisa is curious, and she pays attention to detail, which serves her well as a SAR member. And SAR has given her some new skills, too, from knowing how to dispense oxygen to rappelling, which she says “has really helped me to push my boundaries.”

She says she always tries to remember to keep in mind the mission—why we do what we do—as SAR members. As for what she has gained, she says, “I am grateful to the team for the challenges thrown my way; it translates to all areas of my life.”

Searcher Spotlight: Antoine Snijders

One of the quietest SAR members can often be found in back of OES busying himself in the storage containers. While Medical Corporal Antoine Snijders may keep a low profile, he takes his work seriously. “I try to keep our team mission-ready by keeping the medical packs in good shape,” he says.

Antoine joined the team in winter 2010. He says he finds the prospect of helping others in need “truly inspiring,” and SAR offers the rare opportunity to have a profound impact on other people’s lives.

He also joined, he says, because he has an adventurous side. Studious, too, apparently. The Netherlands native studied biomedical sciences at the VU University in Amsterdam, did further studies in cancer research at UCSF, then earned a doctoral degree in genetics and molecular biology from the University of Utrecht. After completing postdoctoral work at UCSF, he was hired on at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where he now studies health risks of low doses of ionizing radiation.

Between his job, his family (he lives with his wife and young daughter and toddler son in Antioch), earning his American citizenship (this year) and his dedication to SAR, Antoine has little time for play. But if he finds a few moments, he will work in the yard, go for a run, or operate his amateur radio.

The 2011 Mendocino search left a hefty impression on Antoine. He says, quoting John “Hannibal” Smith of the A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.” All the days of work by many SAR teams culminated in finding the subject and Antoine says, “It was a truly humbling experience. I was thankful for the positive outcome and proud to be part of this great organization.”

Antoine is enthusiastic in his appreciation for the members of CoCo SAR. “It’s an honor to serve with all of you, and I hope to do so for many years to come.”

His teammates hope he does, too.

Advanced Land Nav — 2012

Once a year, CoCo SAR's Mountain Rescue Group (MRG) hosts the Type I Academy. Part of the curriculum includes an intensive course on map and compass skills. The culminating event is Advanced Land Navigation, where students are dropped off in a remote location, and have to navigate their way to a series of flags before arriving at a final rallying point. This full-day event involves an air-to-ground exercise with the Sheriff's Air Squadron, as well as an advanced ATV training opportunity.

Photos by Andy Csepely and Mark Wilfer

Mission Tempo

Even though our calls for service have been light this past month, the membership continues to train for and execute the mission of the SAR team. For example, this past month, after a long break, we now have two newly certified urban trailing K9’s. Congratulations to Carol O’Neil and Jennifer Wright for their accomplishment with their K9 partners. This is going to pay off handsomely for the team, since we will now be able to deploy trailing dogs much earlier on search missions. 

I also want to thank Diane Blue and Wilma Murray for taking the lead organizing our latest member recruitment drive. They have worked tirelessly through the extended hiring process to bring a new group of volunteers onto the team. This is a tough job and requires a tremendous amount of time and energy. They are the perfect ambassadors for our team and the new recruits. 

There are many other things actively going on across the team. I wish I could mention them all. Even though we recently have not had many callouts for traditional search and rescue missions, we’ve been doing a lot of great things to support the department and community. I’ve often said the many things we do to be mission-ready are not easy, . . . but all of you make it look easy.

When our callout tempo slows, one of the questions I constantly hear is, “It has been really quiet lately, is this normal?” I’ve been around SAR long enough to know this is normal. We have had mission droughts in the past. It happens. The reality is it has been pretty quiet for most teams throughout the State. Just for our team, we went through the whole month of June without a genuine SAR callout. That is extraordinary, but not unheard of. In contrast, we started out the year with a very active operational tempo. It tapered off. It will pick up again.

Another comment I hear when SAR calls dry up is the myth that there's a missing person "season.” The idea that our SAR missions are seasonal in nature doesn’t hold true.  If we were a mountain-based SAR team or located in a tourist destination, we might see a downturn in calls as visitors to our county decreased in the off-season, but Contra Costa is not in these categories. Furthermore, the majority of our in-county calls fall into two categories: criminal evidence searches, and missing persons who are either at-risk dementia patients, or individuals with developmental disabilities. Neither of these categories are affected by the seasons or weather patterns. 

The team's collective dedication to the mission is outstanding. The training and participation of every team member clearly demonstrates that incredible commitment. The staff at OES laughs when I say I want to exercise the “machine” with callouts. The SAR team is a machine, and keeping it oiled through callouts is an important way of ensuring the membership remains active and engaged. The missions will come back, and when they do, we’ll hear, “Wow, it sure is busy!” Then we’ll wish for it to be quiet again. It’s all part of the SAR cycle.

The last old wives' tale I often hear is, "Don’t ever say it’s been quiet.” If that's a true tale, I’m here to say, it’s been way too quiet!

Bring it on. The team is ready.

Team Commendations, July

Michael Cummings was selected for his outstanding work improving and coordinating the team's radio communications equipment. Captain Kovar said Michael's work has been “stellar” in improving our ability to communicate in the field by ensuring existing equipment is fully utilized, and by extending our infrastructure with new technologies. Michael has attended and represented the team in several County and State conferences, and has been instrumental in setting up the team's repeater, the cell phone tower, and other communications devices.




Natalie Gore was selected for her outstanding effort and leadership during the June full-team training at the Bear Creek Staging Area in Briones Regional Park. Putting on a team training involves a tremendous amount of effort and responsibility. Natalie took on the challenge, planning and organizing the event over many, many hours. The result was an outstanding team training with challenging logistical coordination involving more than half a dozen role players.

Fund Raiser With Five Guys

Five Guys in Pleasant Hill is very excited to host a fundraiser on Tuesday, July 24th for Contra Costa County Search and Rescue. The event will run from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m.

Be sure to print out a flyer and bring it along. A flyer must accompany the receipt for the team to receive 10% back on the value of the purchase.

Keeping Up . . . In Just Minutes a Day

Find it hard to maintain all the skills you’ve learned since joining SAR? Days too busy to fit in any more studying (and maybe head too full to take anything else in)? Can’t seem to get organized enough to be search-ready? It may seem like there is too much to keep up with and no time to do it.

But there is something you can do, and it’s relatively painless. It’s just a matter of using those empty moments (and yes, we all have them) in a constructive way.

The following is a list of things you can do in the nooks and crannies of your days that will, believe it or not, help when it comes to a search. These are just suggestions to get the thoughts rolling; there are lots more things you can come up with once you get the idea.

While standing in line (at BART, the supermarket, the post office, etc.)…

  • Look around you and imagine a scenario in which a medical emergency happens to someone nearby. Walk through (only in your head, of course) what you might do. Talk yourself through the whole process. Imagine the head-to-toe exam and think of the SAMPLE questions. Look around to see what you might use if you had to improvise (for a splint, for instance, or bandage). If you have any concerns about an appropriate action, take note of it and remember to ask someone “in the know” later.
  • Practice your acronyms. If you have one of the handy cards with all the acronyms on it, pull it out and review.
  • Observe the people around you. Think how you might describe them. Think how others might describe them that could be confusing. Try glancing at someone quickly, and then looking away and trying to remember what they were wearing.

While watching TV…

  • Pull out your ropes and practice a few knots—over and over again. Learn a new one.
  • Clean out your backpack. Double-check supplies and make a list of what you need to replenish. Set aside items that need rehabbing.
  • Practice folding up the sleeves of your uniform shirt. (No, it’s not easy.)
  • Do some simple isometric exercises to strengthen your quads: If sitting on a chair or couch, press the heel of each foot, one at a time, down into the floor (you’ll feel your quads tighten), and hold for 5 seconds. Do 10 repetitions with each leg. You can do this at work, on BART, or anyplace else you're sitting down. Strong quads are essential for hiking.

When you’re on the computer without work to do, before visiting Facebook you might…

  • Go on the CoCoSAR photo website (SmugMug) and review the photos in the team-member gallery. Get to know each member's face and make a note of their name.
  • Read some of the material from the documents menu on the SAR website. Manyof the things you’ve learned so far can be reviewed there, especially for EMR and USAR.
  • Go back through The Callout newsletter archives and refresh your memory on different topics. You may find articles that didn’t apply at the time, but do now.

When you have 10 or 15 minutes around the house with a willing friend or family member…

  • Take their vital signs
  • Practice splinting
  • Practice wrapping a bandage
  • Do a head-to-toe exam
  • Do a practice interview, as though you are the first at a search site and they are the subject’s loved ones

And, of course, if you have an hour or two, take a hike!