Success Through Competence: 2012 Was a Great Year

As we have closed out 2012, I want to personally thank each and every team member for his/her contributions to the continued growth and success of the team. We continue to build on a world-class organization and make it better and better. As a manager of a program, one could not hope for more. The SAR program is a huge asset to the Office of the Sheriff and the citizens of our community. They are very appreciative of your combined efforts.

In 2012 the team had some amazing accomplishments. Some significant statistics from 2012 are as follows:

  • COCOSAR members contributed 41,500 hours of service.
  • The team fulfilled 57 missions (includes both searches and medical details), 39 of which were in-county missions and 18 were out of county mutual-aid missions.
  • The team assisted 29 different public-safety agencies throughout the state of California in 2012.

These numbers do not tell the whole story of this team. The commitment and focus to the mission everyone has is directly responsible for why the team continues to grow and get better. Your individual responses to callouts, no matter what time they come, has been incredible.

As a team, we have been able to get plenty of resources on scene when it counts. We consistently bring the largest contingent of searchers to whichever county we’re responding to. In turn, we are providing an incredible service to the missing people we assist in looking for.

For me the most significant aspect of our ability to respond with big numbers is not about having the most SAR members at any given search. It is the fact that we are consistently regarded as extremely competent and professional when we arrive. We have a large team, but most importantly we have a well-trained professional team that continues to make a difference whereever we respond.

As an example; at two out of county searches in December, as soon as we arrived, we were given large divisions over which to take management. Allied agencies trust that we know what we’re doing.

Why are we seen as one of the best? Every team member has bought into our training requirements, our fitness requirements and the minimum standards set for the team. These standards are above and beyond what CALEMA requires to operate in the SAR environment.

This is not a knock on any other team. Many teams have as high, and in some cases, higher standards. What we have is incredible numbers to go along with incredibly competent operators.

You dedicate a lot of time and personal capital to train and be a part of this team. It has paid off countless times this past year.

Early in the year we conducted a huge search for a suicidal subject in Crockett. We developed a plan, had a strategy and executed it extremely well. It resulted in us locating the decedent in a drain pipe near the edge of the search area.

We fielded 120 people that day. Most large-scale mutual-aid searches are not that big. This subject would not have been found quickly without that combination of size and SAR competency.

In April, we were requested by investigations to clear a marijuana grow in the Los Vaqueros watershed. Our fitness requirements and ability to work in difficult terrain greatly assisted in quickly clearing this area with no injuries.

In August, we cleared another significant pot grow in Oakley. This is not glamorous, but our assistance to Sheriff’s Office investigation in both instances saved valuable man hours and accomplished the request quickly.

In September, when CHP Officer Kenyon Youngstrom was killed in the line of duty, team members immediately responded for incident support and around-the-clock support at the vigil outside the coroner’s office. This situation is definitely outside the realm of SAR, but the willingness to do whatever is asked in support of the Sheriff’s Office is not. This support, while behind the scenes and not very glamorous, was a huge benefit to the grieving family and coworkers of the fallen officer.

Then the month of October hit us. We had a total of 13 missions for the month. This was a very high op tempo for the team. Yet we were able to consistently get there and make a difference. We sent 25 on a Tuesday morning to Solano for a missing person. We had four separate Type 1 requests. We sent strong groups of people and were instrumental in the rescue and recovery of multiple victims that month. It was a perfect storm of conditions and the SAR Team met every request with enthusiasm, commitment and competence.

I guarantee our calls for service will be higher this year. Our reputation with the state and counties we assist grew exponentially with the service we provided this past year. In 2013, we will continue to expand the depth and competence of our team. We’ll continue to train hard and respond when called. And when we are called, we will be competent, confident and not cocky.

We must balance being a large and very capable team with being humble and not arrogant when working with other programs. It is OK to take pride in this team’s excellence, but it is better to be competent, prepared and humble when working with other teams. It is going to be a great year.

Lessons Learned From A Difficult Search

By Patrick Walker

It was 0430 and I was ready to go. My parents had made a one-time exception to let me go on this search and miss school. Something in my gut told me that this day would be different.

We left at 0500 and began the drive to Nevada County where we would be searching for a missing gold miner. At 0800, we reached Incident Command (IC), located in the Sierra Nevada foothills. After a bit of waiting, I got my team assignment. I was on a team with Steve Webber and Eddy Crochetiere and our assignment was to search an area around five acres in size. We would soon find out why our search area was so small.

We got dropped off via Gator in pretty much the middle of nowhere. The brush was like a wall on both sides. It was going to be tough to search through this. Down the trail a little we found a slight opening and decided to take it. I was placed in the middle of our line, since I was the only one without a GPS. Steve took up the perimeter. The terrain was so difficult and the brush so thick that we could only be about 15 feet apart in order to keep line of sight, and even that was difficult at times! After a couple of hours crawling through poison oak, we took a break to eat. It was 1230 and we weren’t even halfway done with our assignment.

We got going again, pushing through brush even thicker than before. We were talking about how tough the assignment was. We thought nobody would ever be in such a difficult area and that maybe we should tell IC it couldn’t be searched. Thirty seconds later, as I was crawling on my hands and knees through brush, I heard Steve yell that he had found the subject.

We called in our location and waited for the deputy to arrive and confirm that this was indeed the subject. Given our location, we concluded it would be extremely difficult to do a carryout with a stokes litter, so the deputy requested a helicopter. We made a clearing and had a chainsaw cut a path for us to use just in case we couldn’t get the helicopter.

I knew there was a chance a helicopter was coming, but I didn’t have any full coverage goggles. I had to improvise: I took my clear map bag and folded it in half. Then I put it on my face and kept it around my head with duct tape. People looked at me like I was crazy, but, it worked! It took a little while for the helicopter to find us. Then our team stepped aside and let the helicopter crew take over. Our work was done and it was time to go home.

It took awhile to get up to the road, but the path cut by the chainsaw definitely helped. We returned to the command post. All the other CoCo SAR teams were waiting for us. I almost couldn’t believe it had happened.

Looking back on that day, I realize how well CoCo SAR has trained us. We would never have found the subject if we were not trained so well. Everything we did was a skill we learned from the team. So I want to say… THANK YOU to everyone who has put in time and energy towards making our team so strong.

I also want to pass along some lessons I learned that day. First, always keep a bag with face-mask, earplugs, and full-coverage goggles for helicopters in your 24-hour pack. You never know when you’ll need it! (A pocket chainsaw would have also been useful.)

Second, keep something brightly colored attached to every piece of gear you use in the field. Steve dropped his GPS and would never have found it if it weren’t for a bright orange lanyard that was attached to it.

Third, NEVER doubt your assignment. I doubted ours and it ended up being the one. Remember, every assignment is important and that your assignment could play a key role in a successful mission.

Though I wish it could have been a different outcome, we were happy to help bring closure to the family. I would do it all over again if I had to, and I know that eventually I will. It could be in an hour, could be in 10 years. But we will always be there to help people in need. That’s why we’re here.


Changing Channels on the new Motorola Mobile Radios

To find one of the “typical” channels we use in SAR (e.g. TAC 4, CALCORD, CLEMARS) follow these steps:

  1. Press the small rectangular button multiple times under the word “ZONE” to scroll to ZONE 10 (see the small letters above the channel identifier).
  2. Turn the larger channel knob on the right side of the display to change the channel (e.g. TAC 4).

Easy as that! The communications crew will be laminating a full ZONE LIST and placing it in all the SAR vehicles on the visor on the passenger side for reference for other channels if needed.

IMPORTANT - The orange button on the right, behind the channel knob is the “Officer Down” button.  Do NOT push this button unless it is a life or death emergency.



Looking Back, Looking Ahead–The Resource Year in Review

Bicycle Resource
The Bike Resource was involved in number of medical events throughout 2012 and participated in many aspects of team training, including UNO, as part of the Type 2 Academy. Most recently, the Bike Resource participated in team medical events for the Mount Diablo Challenge Bike race and the Lafayette Reservoir Run.

Primary goals for 2013
- Hold a Bike Resource Orientation Academy for new members
- Organize monthly training rides
- Organize optional weekly fitness rides for all members
- Participate in team medical events


Canine Resource
The Canine Resource had some significant accomplishments in 2012. They included certifying two trailing-dog teams and recertification of an area and an HRD (human remains detection) dog team. Also, the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) policies were revised and the resource added three trailing-dog teams and a new puppy (trailing and firearms) for a currently certified handler.

Primary goals for 2013
- Certify four trailing-dog teams
- Recertify an area-dog team
- Plan for water training, a trailing seminar, and to revise the SOP training manual



Equestrian Resource
The Equestrians are probably the smallest resource, with four current members. Meeting the rider / horse requirement has been the focus of 2012.  The resource is similar to the canine resource in that each member must practice more with his / her “partner” individually than during monthly trainings.

Primary goals for 2013
- Increase numbers.
- Research and develop ways to have those who do not ride or own horses participate


The Explorers had a busy 2012 and added 12 new Explorer members to the team; getting them through the Type 3 Academy with six carrying on to Type 2. That took a lot of work with many experienced Explorers acting as coaches and proctors.

The Explorer rafting trip in August was a lot of fun, but also an excellent team-building training. Explorer Capt. Kevin Clark led one of the SAR-o-Rama trainings on patient assessment and this event provided an excellent leadership opportunity for him.

A “treasure chest” geocache hike was a big hit in November. The Explorers had to follow clues via a topographical map, a GPS waypoint, and a compass, among other clues, to lead to a chest full of treasures (movie items and chocolate) hidden at OES.

There were several fun trainings, as well, at the local climbing gym; PR events; and several Explorers went through the EMR class.

Primary goal for 2013
- Take a leadership role in some of the team’s trainings such as SAR-o-Rama


Metal Detector Resource
The Metal Detector Resource continues to be a valuable part of the team by assisting local law enforcement units recover evidence at crime scenes. The resource has a strong group of core members and several new Type 3 academy graduates. Many of our searches took place during regular business hours to meet the needs of the requesting agency. Fortunately, enough members were able to take the time mid-week to meet all metal detector callout requests.

During 2012, the resource was asked to locate (or eliminate the possibility of their location through due diligence) weapons and ammunition on several occasions, including an extensive search of a block-long juniper bush in Richmond’s Iron Triangle.

Primary goals for 2013
- Build the capabilities of its current members
- Increase the number of members who are well-trained enough to handle any callouts


Mountain Rescue Group (MRG)
The MRG held a successful academy with two new Type 1 members added to the callout roster in 2012. During the year there were also numerous Type 1 searches in a variety of terrain, from the coastal range to the high Sierra. The snow and ice re-accreditation team trained hard for its March 2013 test date.



Primary goals for 2013
- Pass another recertification effort in snow and ice
- Maintain continued readiness for challenging callouts in difficult Type 1 terrain
- Increase the Type 1 callout roster to 35 by the fall of 2013


Tracking Resource
The focus for 2012 was on building new skills so that at a moment’s notice, members could follow a subject’s trail without falter. However, just as importantly it has been about educating the full team on how to protect precious tracks, preserve clues that can aid in the discovery of a lost subject, and to teach a searcher how to raise his/her acuity as a ground-pounder.

Primary goals for 2013
- Continue to be an educational resource focused on teaching track awareness, clue protection, night-vision and thermal-vision tactics, etc.
- Continue to define and refine the resource’s collective tracking techniques so they can be taught to all team searchers
- Spread among the membership – during academies, full-team trainings and the 2013 Tracking Academy – the concepts and importance of tracking. Sign (or spoor) is everywhere – 25 percent of the team understands this; the tracking sergeant wants the other 75 percent


USAR Resource
During 2012, the USAR Resource successfully implemented a two-tier training program (one advanced and one basic); had a strong turnout and enthusiasm at all of its training events; added to the state USAR mutual-aid list; and grew its full-team USAR Type 4 readiness through team trainings and the SAR Type 3 Academy.


Primary goals for 2013
- Develop the USAR Ops Guide
- Expand USAR’s Type 3 numbers
- Develop strong Type 3 team leaders


Bayesian Search Analytics and the Professional Searcher

By Chris Nichols

The recent Pleasant Hill search provided a simple example of working with Bayesian statistics to quickly find a subject. An efficient search is a balancing act between accurate field information and the allocation of resources by search management. The interplay between the two is one of the many activities that distinguish the lay searcher from the professional searcher.

For starters, the professional searcher thinks in terms of defined areas. This allows search management to better manage operations.

Another aspect is that the lay searcher is looking for the subject, while the professional searcher is also looking for clues and, almost as important, finding areas of where the subject is not.

Finally, one of the largest differences between lay and professional searchers is that the professional searcher thinks in terms of probabilities. Where a lay searcher might clear a trail and determine the subject is not there, the professional searcher might conclude that there is a 50 percent probability that the subject isn’t there. While the difference might seem slight, the practical application is huge.

Using the Pleasant Hill search as an example to pull this together, our team was on scene two hours after the subject went missing, allowing us a limited search area. Because of the behavior of the subject, we narrowed down the high probability areas to two segments. Search management now had a path to manage field teams. However, we still didn’t know if the subject would go north or south – this is where Bayesian statistics came in.

Since the subject could have turned left or right equally, we divided Contra Costa Blvd. into two segments, one south (Segment A) and one north (B), each having a 50-percent probability. We sent the first team south. Let’s say they came back with a probability of detection of 30 percent. We now can work the math so that our new probability of area (POA) equals (1-30 percent) X 50 percent / 1-(50 percent X 30 percent), or 41 percent.

Since the probability of area A goes down, that means the probability of area B goes up even though it has not been searched yet (a 0 percent of probability of detection). This can be proven in the formula 50 percent / 1-(50 percent x 30 percent), or 59 percent. Thus, Segment A’s POA went down from 50 percent to 41 percent after the first team completed its assignment, while B’s went from 50 percent to 59 percent.

We now can put additional resources into B (which we did) to bring down the probability. The inclusion of our old probability of area of 50 percent is what makes this a “Bayesian” calculation, after mathematician Thomas Bayes came up with theory in the 18th century. The inclusion of our old probability in the calculation serves to “anchor” our estimation closer to reality vs. other statistical methods.

After picking up some clues in the Pleasant Hill search, we started to flood the area with searchers in Segment B where the subject was eventually found. This mission provided us with the most basic example imaginable. Adding more segments would have complicated things fast, as we would have recomputed the POA for each segment searched and not searched. If we have 25 segments, as we often do, that is 25 x 25, or 625 computations per debrief. This is one reason why we keep a set of laptops handy in the CP.

Most important, the above calculations are mathematical proof that field teams are effective even when they don’t find the subject. Knowing that we have a reduced probability of Segment A allows a higher probability of success for the team searching B. If taken to the extreme, we could end up with the statistical probability in the final unsearched segment of something approaching 100 percent.

While a team injected to that final area would surely make the find, the mathematical reality is that the team searching that segment did comparatively little, as it was only through the effort of all the other teams in all the other segments that pointed the search manager to put that team in the final segment. This is why search and rescue is truly a team effort.

Next to staying safe, accurately assessing your probability of detection so the above analysis can be as precise as possible is one of the most important items you can do. No matter what your experience, having knowledge of how resources are allocated will not only help you better understand the search process, but will improve your capabilities as a professional searcher. 

Welcome to the “Neigh”borhood – Equestrian Notes

By Melissa Madsen

You may have seen one of the team’s larger four-footed team members at a training or on a search this year. The Equestrian Resource wants to introduce itself to the team at large.

Here are a few fun facts about horses that relate to SAR:

  • Did you know a horse can pull a heavy object? Horses have been used as draft animals for centuries. Think of the stokes litter on your hike out of UNO, or how about those heavy medical bags with oxygen tanks?
  • Horses can travel 20-30 miles per day at a moderate rate of speed.
  • A horse is quiet while traveling and thus a mounted searcher may hear a weakened cry from a lost person.
  • Horses may travel on fire roads, single tracks or go four-hoofing (off trail) to cover search areas.
  • As a prey animal, horses have a very good sense of smell and hearing. They are keenly aware of their surroundings for small movements. The SAR saying is “Look where the horse looks.”

Here are a few safety tips for all team members:

  • Be calm and quiet. Sudden moves can cause a horse to shy (jump sideways).
  • Approach a horse from a 45-degree angle to shoulder. This is the best way for you to be in a horse’s line of sight. Do not approach directly in front or behind a horse. (Remember, horses can sleep standing, and although they can see almost 360 degrees, they have a blind spot to the direct front and rear.)
  • The safest way to lead a horse is with a halter and lead rope. Don't hook your fingers through the halter straps, rings or the bit. If the horse pulls away, your fingers could be caught, injuring them or catching your hand so that you are dragged. Never loop lead ropes, lunge lines, or reins around your hands or any other body part.
  • Never stand directly behind a horse.
  • If you must pick up a horse’s foot or something off the ground near a horse, DO NOT squat or kneel around a horse. Bend over so that if the horse moves, you can get out of the way quickly.
  • Remember, most horses weigh 1,000 to 1,200  pounds.
  • We encourage all members to come and pet the horses and get  to know them, but only if the owner is there. Our horses must be people- and animal-friendly, but the horse may like things done in a certain way.
  • Do not feed a horse anything without consulting the owner first.  Keep hands clear of the horse's mouth. Horses can very quickly become greedy and mistake fingers for carrots or other treats.
  • Wear sturdy shoes or boots that will protect your feet if a horse steps on them. No sandals or thin shoes! (Remember the 1,200 pounds.)
  • When tying, use a quick-release knot or panic snap so that if the horse gets scared and pulls, he can quickly be freed. The feeling of being constrained can make a scared horse panic to the point of hurting himself or you.
  • The safest place to stand is beside the horse's shoulder where you can see each other. When moving around a horse, you should be able to touch it with your elbow, or stay at least 10 or more feet away.
  • Never attempt to help a horse that is panicked. If a horse is in trouble and thrashing about, wait until he calms down and stands still (if able to stand) before you try to help him. Again, even the most gentle horse can cause deadly injuries because of his sheer weight and power, so wait until it is safe to untie or untangle a horse that is in trouble. Remember, your safety is paramount.

If you are interested in or have experience with horses, contact Equestrian Resource Sergeant Gerald Fay for more information about the resource. 

Team Commendations, December

Member Recognition

Natalie Zensius
As a new team member and graduate of this fall's Academy, Natalie wasted no time in stepping up to assume an important role. When it became necessary for other staff members to fill in to produce several issues of the Callout, Natalie volunteered her services right away. She immediately took a lead role in the production of the newsletter, which involved many hours of work. She also came up with valuable insights and objectives for future issues and has shown great enthusiasm and capabilities for the task. The Command Staff recognizes her excellent work.

Jim Gay
Jim recently completed two years as SAR's medical sergeant.  Former medical sergeants will attest to the difficulty of the job, which can often be unrecognized and thankless. It not only requires coordinating important medical details throughout the year, but also the need to maintain SAR medical equipment in a state of mission readiness. The Command Staff thanks Jim for his tenure in this role.

Team Members Topping the Charts

During the course of 2012, CoCoSAR received 57 calls for aid from various jurisdictions. Of these calls, CoCoSAR launched 621 pairs of boots to 35 searches (K9, evidence and lost subject) throughout the state in 2012. Nineteen were in county, while 16 were out of county. The short list below represents those members who got boots on the ground at multiple search venues throughout the year.

Team trainings are important to maintaining one’s perishable skills. The 13 names below represent those members that were either polishing their skills to a fine shine or they were the proctors helping to refresh team members’ skills. 


Most people have lives. Others seem to contribute most of their time to CoCoSAR’s mission. These members’ hours represent compilations of time spent on staff functions, searches, special details, proctoring, skills development within a resource, and a host of other activities that support the team and maintains its readiness.

50 Percent Attrition Every Two Years? Not at CoCoSAR

By John P Banuelos, Academy Sergeant

The rule of thumb in Search and Rescue Team circles is that there is an attrition rate of 50 percent every two years for a new Academy class. Based on the latest team roster, CoCoSAR does not follow convention.

Our team can proudly state that our attrition rate is closer to 50 percent every three years and six months based on data going back to 2007. While we haven't yet hit our objective of 50 percent every four years, the current number speaks volumes of our members themselves and their desire to be on this team.

My class of 2009 followed the projection line of attrition almost perfectly. I miss every member from my class whose name is no longer on the team roster. As a class, we always rooted for all our fellow members to persevere through navigation, the Type 2 hike, UNO, and myriad other small challenges. We smiled whenever we saw each other at a new search, ready to link up and once again take on the ardor of a fresh challenge.

While 14 of my classmates are now gone, 93 of you from the classes of 2010 to the fresh class of 2012 have taken their place. Like those before you, I smile when I see you. I join you as my new brothers and sisters in arms at our latest challenges.

I hope that I will see all of you, from our latest classes to the grizzled veterans who came before me, for many more years to come. 

Nancy Hart, Rick Najarian, Karyn Corcoran, Larry Fong are part of the line of past Academy sergeants, along with Diane Moschetti, Diane Blue and Wilma Murray as the  über-recruiters that need to be acknowledged as contributors to our solid retention rate. 

Searcher Spotlight: Laura Carmody

She lives with Marty, Keira, Yoshi and Tim in Antioch, but that’s a small family compared to the one Laura Carmody grew up with. One of 12 kids raised in Manhattan Beach in Southern California, Laura is used to a mob, so four roommates is a breeze. And of her current in-house family, only one of them – her fiancé, Tim Murphy – doesn’t have fur or feathers. (Marty is an African grey parrot and Keira and Yoshi are German shepherds.)

Laura is an adventurous sort. Recently, she was seen hanging from a rock cliff with a stokes litter in the wind and rain (USAR training), cheerful all the way. She also is an avid scuba diver who has traveled the world enjoying her sport. And she runs … and runs (marathons and 10K races).

Whenever she would hear of disasters in the world, Laura wanted to be part of a responding team. But due to work, she knew she had to look closer to home for any volunteer efforts. That’s why she chose CoCoSAR.

When she joined the team in the fall of 2010, she thought she might train a search dog and/or use her medical skills in the field. So far, the latter seems more likely. As an emergency room RN, Laura has plenty of experience dealing with sudden and major health issues, training which very well could come in handy on a search. While her job keeps her busy, Laura shows up all smiles to whatever SAR events and trainings she can attend.

And in her free time, she slows down to garden “for food, foliage and flowers,” she says, and to read and do Sudoku puzzles. Then she picks it back up again to hike. Whenever she goes hiking, she says, she has learned that doing so with her 20-pound pack makes trainings and searches easier when the time comes.

Her other piece of SAR advice is philosophical – if a little mysterious and with multiple layers of meaning: “Sometimes you open a door and it doesn’t lead to the room you expected,” she says. “But the room has many other doors that, when opened, lead to things you never thought of or expected.”