Initial CoCoSAR Full Team Survey Results

Over 100 team members took the survey and gave us valuable insight into what we as a team are doing right and where the team might have some opportunities to improve. Overall, 92 percent of team members are satisfied or strongly satisfied with our team.

Below are a few more highlights.

  • 97 percent are satisfied or strongly satisfied with our overall team performance.
  • 91 percent are satisfied or strongly satisfied with our search preparedness.
  • 96 percent are satisfied or strongly satisfied with our monthly full-team trainings.
  • 74 percent are satisfied or strongly satisfied with our ability to conduct an after-action review.
  • 95 percent are satisfied or strongly satisfied with our ability to conduct in-county searches.
  • 91 percent are satisfied or strongly satisfied with our ability to conduct out-of-county searches.
  • 92 percent agree or strongly agree the expectations of a CoCoSAR team member have been clearly explained.
  • 63 percent agree or strongly agree they receive the proper supervision and feedback on their SAR performance.
  • 94 percent agree or strongly agree they have received the proper training to meet the expectations of our SAR duties.
  • 78 percent agree or strongly agree there is opportunity on the SAR team for advancement.

Over the next several weeks, the Command Staff will conduct a full analysis of the survey results. We'll share the information with the full team in September.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the survey. Your feedback is extremely valuable and a critical component to the success of the team.


Mutual-Aid Callout, Marin County

By John Hubinger

On June 25, CoCoSAR received an early-morning mutual-aid call to a search in Marin County at the Bon Tempe Lake on the north side of Mt. Tamalpais. We would be looking for a 38-year-old male who had been hiking in the early evening when he realized, as it was getting dark, that he was lost and contacted his family just before his phone batteries died.

With the fog and rain, this was June’s coldest day so far.

Teams from Marin SAR had been called out at midnight and approximately 20 team members began searching around 1 a.m. The Mutual-aid callout happened circa 4 a.m.

Self-transporting, I arrived at the CP just after 8 and shortly thereafter we heard that the subject had been located in good condition.  At about 8:25, the subject arrived at CP mildly hypothermic, wet, tired, confused and wrapped in a blanket. The incident commander asked me to get the subject a cup of coffee, so when I brought it to him, I was able to listen to his debrief. 

Here is what he said:

After sending a picture text to his family, the subject became aware it was getting dark and he was still about three hours out. Trying to return to his car, he took a wrong turn and instead, headed in the opposite direction. At about 9:30 he called his family saying he was lost and soon after that his iPhone batteries died (so now he had no communication, map or light). He walked another hour until the trail ended, then made the decision to stay put for the night, huddling by a tree and using his hoody for cover and shelter.

At first light, he started to retrace his path and eventually was able to find the right trail. Several teams came very close to him, both at night and that morning, but none saw him.

After his debrief by the IC commander, he was given a full medical by a team of paramedics and the SAR personnel were debriefed, thanked and dismissed.  

Lessons learned:

·       Many moderately experienced hikers go out for “day hikes” without proper clothing, food, water and navigational information.

·       It is not uncommon for hikers to rely too heavily on smart phones (or GPS), only to find they don’t get reception, they run out of batteries or that the phones are of limited value – in this case all of the above!

·       Remembering that a landmark such as a lake was on the “right side” going out and therefore now should be on the left side coming back, doesn’t help if the lake in question is a different lake and you have no map or position on a GPS device.

That last point became clear to me after the assignment was over because I chose to stay to explore and hike the unfamiliar area. I retraced the path of the subject (the path he outlined was fairly clear). About three hours into my hike/run it became quite clear where he might have been when he made that “I think I’m lost” phone call. The whole retrace took me about 6.5 hours (with GPS, water, charged phone, map and some gear – no pack, but more than I usually take trail running on my own). It was interesting to imagine myself in the boots of the lost hiker at the point where he spent a cold uncomfortable evening.

I-Team and K-Team Cultivation Extraction

By John Banuelos


On an island, a solitary figure awaits the arrival of a support force. He waits in the darkness of a moonless night ready to direct small squads to their final objectives. He listens for the slightest sound of their approach. Some distance away three captains maneuver their sleek, fast boats through the maze of waterways, avoiding the dangerous shoals but moving as fast as possible with their precious cargo of elite squads.

The I-Team stands ready in their camouflage gear, with weapons primed, ready to be the first to step off. Their K-team of search and destroy specialists check and ready their equipment. With quiet nods to each other, members of the K-team signal to all they are ready.

On the stern of one fast boat stands a lone figure. He is former Airborne and a Vietnam veteran. He knows the dangers of this kind of mission, in waters such as these. He alone understand the reality …

And the reality is my daydream was interrupted by a large wave that came over the side onto me as I dozed on the deck of a Sheriff Office (SO) boat. Let’s rewind and start this tale again.

Investigations (I-Team) had once again requested the assistance of CoCoSAR members for the clearing of another marijuana field, an emerging skill set of the team. In this case, this cultivation had been grown on one of the delta’s many islands. This was a first for CoCoSAR.

Our departure was in the early morning (not on a moonless night) of Wednesday, June 5, from the docks of a marina. Three SO boats carried investigation team members who were dressed in their camouflage gear and vests and armed. Along with them was the “klean-up” (K-Team) squad of 18 volunteers armed with gardening tools. Some of us carried our own specialized set of tools honed just for these occasions (machete, anyone?). While we were no Seal Team Six assault force, we all went with the required enthusiasm to do the job and do it well.

Our inside man was the island manager. Upon our arrival onto his island, the leads of both teams went inside the manager’s home to evaluate intel and island maps. Based on the aerial photos, two teams were formed to complete a form of seek and destroy on different parts of the island. Plants were to be completely eradicated and all equipment removed from the island.

One squad went on foot to its appointed location, while a second squad crowded onto a truck and was transported to its. Both squads found their assigned field. Clean lines of growth, three to eight plants across, stretched for 100s of yards. All these lines of cultivation paralleled rows of trees that helped to hide these plants from view. Intermixed with these plants was an effective irrigation system.

Plants were removed and readied for destruction. Irrigation pipes were cut up and bundled for removal. While tools had been brought in to assist in this effort, it was found that these plants could easily be pulled out by hand. Within hours, both squads completed their assigned mission. Time was spent doing additional reconnaissance for other grows in other possible sections of the island. But, no additional grows were found. Our mission was done.

Upon our return we were all able to enjoy the simple pleasure of a cool day, with a warm sun on our faces and the pleasure of delta waters as we sped home. We were mission successful.


(Photos: Mikel Kinser)

Team Commendations, June 2013

Joe Keyser
Joe under took a large task of organizing, scheduling, and planning the recent Type 1 Academy. His overall supervision was definitely “hands on” and his direction challenged a new group of Type 1 students. In end this will greatly benefit the SAR Team.

Tim Murphy
‚ÄčTim was the driver for a recent series of USAR Rope Rescue Trainings that many team members from all levels of experience took advantage of. In addition to the scheduled trainings Tim even agreed to meet students for some extra sessions for some additional trainings. The result will also greatly benefit the SAR Team in our future searches. Good work to Joe and Tim and thank you for you dedication & membership to the SAR Team!

Team Commendations, May 2013

Nancy Hoffman
Nancy was a key leader in the recent Full team Medical Training at the CSU Campus in May. First, she secured and worked out all the logistics for the training with the campus staff. In addition, Nancy provided and guided many of the medical scenarios before and during the training. We received great feedback that the training provided the teaching points and refreshers that each team member needs.

Ed Molascon
Ed has taken many different assignments through the SAR Team both in front and behind the scenes and we all agree he does them all in an excellent manner. Ed’s work within the team has been described as leader, mentor, encouraging, patient, and tireless to name as few.

Natalie Zensius
Natalie has been recognized for her outstanding work with the recent reorganization of the The Call Out Newsletter. She has changed the direction of the newsletter to an on going source of online information for the team and providing a valuable tool for all team members.

Training Paying Off

WP Kovar

This team constantly trains to improve and be the best.  The marathon Emergency Medical Responder class, monthly team trainings, Hasty trainings, or specific resource trainings that happen month in and month out demonstrate we are constantly striving to improve.  This training, combined with your focus on the mission, is the reason the SAR team is one of the best programs in the state.

This past weekend was the perfect example of this team’s professionalism and capability.  We had outstanding coverage on all shifts throughout the County Fair.  This year’s fair was one of the smoothest fairs in memory.  Arrests and medical calls were lower than average.  With that said, there were several notable situations requiring ALS transport to the hospital.  From what I could see, everyone was extremely professional and focused on providing excellent care.  I want to thank everyone for taking their jobs seriously and providing exceptional public service this past weekend.

In the middle of the fair Friday night we were pre-empted to respond to Richmond to assist with a search for a missing 4-year-old girl.  This type of callout has the potential of becoming a major campaign search due to the victim’s risk.  Logistically our response was challenged as most of our equipment was committed to the fair. We were ready.  Prior to the fair we set up a vehicle with a basic CP cache just in case there was a search during the fair. 

And true to expectations we received this callout on Friday evening.  The search was a textbook example of why we train and insist on following specific procedures. When we arrived on scene, Richmond PD had been actively searching for the missing girl for about three hours. We were briefed on the situation and on what had been searched.  We were ensured the house had been searched and cleared.  Nevertheless, our first assignment was to re-search the residence.  In less than 10 minutes, the girl was found safe, asleep under a bed at the house.  This search had all the earmarks of going huge quickly.  Richmond Police had a lot of resources committed. And we were planning on going full team and had requested additional state resources to respond.

The response to Richmond had some technical issues, but the human factor worked perfectly.  As team members arrived, they quickly took on reflex tasks important to the beginning of the search.  Re-searching the house was not a major achievement or any reason to high five each other. Researching the house is based on past experience and standard practices we employ when we come on scene.  We train in hasty training and search management courses to do this.  It is not a reflection on the host agency.  It is just a fact: Sometimes things are missed.  Our thoroughness is not perfect, but we strive for it. In this case the situation resolved quickly.  Having everyone following a standard SOP ensured this case resolved quickly and positively.  The team’s actions that Friday evening were a reflection of our training.

We train hard as a team to be able to do the best job we can when called.  The County Fair and the Richmond search were two examples of our training and commitment paying off.   You all should be proud to be part of a program that makes a difference.

Team Commendations, April 2013

464828_10151446969127157_1682205153_o (1)Micheal and Casey Riggs
The Rescue Twins were nominated for their support of a fellow team member on the second Diablo Endurance Hike (DEH), a Type 1 qualification hike. While both had already certified at a prior DEH event, a fellow team member had not. Knowing this, they volunteered to give up another Sunday to assist her with the second attempt. They faced the heat of the day and provided a guardianship from start to finish with their selected charge.  This is a distinguished example of teammates helping other teammates to succeed. 

Alan Mathews
Alan Mathews was nominated for building, on his own time, an exceptional scale model of a home with everything needed to teach shoring for a recent USAR training. Members commented that the scaled-down structure and scaled shoring equipment were precise in every detail, right down to the scaled-down nails.  Alan spent untold hours of work on a project that helped the USAR instructors better explain and his own teammates better understand the mechanics of USAR shoring and structure support. It was done solely to aid his fellow USAR teammates.

Nancy Hart
Nancy Hart was nominated for her recent contribution, specifically to the Hasty Squad. She developed and delivered a lecture to the Hasty Squad regarding subjects with autism and how to best manage them. In addition, she opened her home for a Hasty mock search in Danville. Her after-action report feedback helped Hasty members understand how CoCoSAR can be viewed as highly supportive to a family or a full-on intrusion, dependent on such simple actions as asking permission to enter, turning off radios to reduce unfiltered CP information, or eliminating nonpurposeful chatter in front of the family.  Her actions helped to raise the professionalism of Hasty members in attendance at both events.

EMR – Who Made It Happen?
While the celebration of the 2013 EMR student and re-certs of EMR has already occurred, kudos have to be extended all the proctors and instructors that supported their effort to pass EMR in 2013.

Over two dozen members of CoCoSAR attended the classes, helped at the labs and provided the support needed for the five skills stations. As proctors, they logged hours equal to the students with the objective of having everyone succeed at the EMR program. Of course the eight instructors have to be given recognition for their contribution to the success of the 2013 EMR program.  

However, of all the contributors, Ed Molascon probably logged the most hours and was viewed by fellow proctors as the hardest working. All EMR graduates and re-cert participants, please take the time to thank Ed for all the work that was done. Consider it a thank you to the over three-dozen contributors to the program. 

Upcoming Annual Team Member Survey

By Caroline Thomas Jacobs

In the Spring of 2011, we conducted a team survey with the goal of measuring team members’ attitudes about the CoCoSAR. We surveyed three key areas: team member satisfaction, team preparedness, and team administration. It was a comprehensive survey that asked how team members felt about everything from the reasonableness of the participation requirements to the quality of our monthly trainings to the Command Staff’s vision and leadership for the team. The feedback we received has been invaluable and helped shape how we’ve worked to evolve the team over the last two years.                                                         

In 2011, members gave the team high ratings for providing a quality, professional service (92%), search preparedness (92%), and our ability to run monthly trainings (89%) as well as several other areas.  76% of our team members had a "good" or "excellent" level of overall satisfaction with the team.  We were doing many things right.
The survey also highlighted some potential areas for improvement.  Only 34% of team members felt we were good at retaining quality team members.  Only 55% felt we supervised our resources adequately, and 57% felt we had enough opportunities to get to know each other.  As a team, we made addressing these concerns a priority.  Command Staff created a Resources Lieutenant, SAR Social Sergeant, and increased opportunities for new team members to engage more fully in the team experience.
In an effort to continue this learning process, we are conducting another team survey this month.  We will send out the survey via email to the entire team the week of May 20.  Please take a few moments to respond.  Your feedback is very important.  It is your direct feedback that gives all of us the opportunity to strengthen our team and provide a valuable service to our community.

Update: the team member survey is now available. Please complete the survey by Tuesday, May 28th.

Paying It Forward

Hasty Tng Danville April 2013 021By Rick Najarian

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to participate in back-to-back planning sessions at OES for two different upcoming trainings. It struck me how much planning, effort, leadership and participation goes into each of the different trainings that CoCoSAR puts on.

It’s amazing to think about all the levels of all the different types of training that go on in the organization. In any given week there could be trailering, a mock hasty search, ATVs, medical training, canines, technical rescue of one kind or another, field team leadership, navigation, metal detectors, search management, tracking or specialized equipment orientation from Logistics. I’m sure that I’m leaving out plenty of others, not the least of which are our core academies and monthly team trainings, which are major projects in themselves.

Since I’ve joined CoCoSAR, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a fair number of other California SAR teams. I try to learn what I can about how the other teams are structured and how they acquire and maintain their skills. I have to say that I have yet to see another SAR team that is so invested in the initial and ongoing training of their members as is CoCoSAR.

This doesn’t just happen. Every curriculum, every lecture, every exercise has from one to dozens of dedicated team members behind it planning and delivering. Everywhere I look, I see people discovering their passion, gaining knowledge and experience in that area and passing that knowledge and experience on to others. I think that this practice has become one of the main blocks in the foundation of our team. It has resulted in the enormous breadth and depth of skillsets that CoCoSAR brings to the party.

Every one of us has been the recipient of a huge amount of quality training as a result of participation on this team. Likewise, every one of us has a handful of experience and knowledge that we can pass on to other team members. I’d like to encourage each of us, whether we’re formally part of a CoCoSAR training organization or not, to actively seek out opportunities to Pay It Forward. It’s not just about training others; it’s the very best way for each of us to gain a deeper understanding of our own skill sets. It’s also one way to positively reinforce this team’s culture and, as a result, deepen our own sense of our place on the team.

Think about it.

(Photo: Rick Najarian supports April's Hasty Squad Training mock search by posing as roving reporter Dick Danger, from "Mega News." Search Manager Andy Comly subsequently handled the press very well and put them to use in finding the subject.)