Mission Summary: When Rigging Gets Real

By Matt Shargel

When the callout comes, you never know how it will turn out; we need to be prepared mentally, physically, and with gear and training at all times!  This year’s callout to Marin on New Year’s Eve was a reminder of this SAR truth.

Part 1 – The response to the subject
When the call came that the subject had been located and a carryout response was needed, CoCoSAR was first in line at the trailhead.  Team members opened the MRG truck and pulled out the gear.  The role of chief rigger was assigned and we grabbed the litter with backboard and straps, sleeping bag and blanket, the MRG rigging gear bag, and the two full-length rescue ropes.  Many hands made the work relatively light heading up the trail.  As the equipment and searchers reached the end of the path however, we realized the challenge we were facing.

The hike in consisted of 1) about a quarter mile of flat single-track pathway; 2) about a quarter of a mile of steeply off-angled dirt and rock-strewn stream bank; and 3) about a quarter mile of rocky, narrow, and flowing streambed.

Part 2 – Carryout along the streambed
Below you will find a description of the rigging for the middle, sloped stream bank section during the carryout.  To find out more about the first quarter mile of carryout through the flowing streambed you’ll need to talk with someone who was there; it is the stuff of legends and cannot be justly told on paper!

Part 3 – Rigging the traverse
Objective: Provide a running, belay-strength, hand line to protect the litter from a fall along a sloped side of a stream.  The line was rigged to guide pulleys attached to the upper hand rail of the litter.  Three rescuers, one at head, foot, and side, worked the litter down the steeply angled “pathway.”   And even these three had a hard time putting much force into the litter due to the steepness and narrowness of the terrain.

  1. One end of a 60m line was attached to a large tree growing in the middle of the stream, about 20 feet upstream of the litter.  A tensionless anchor clipped with a carabineer was used at about shoulder height. While we usually rig ropes lower to the ground for strength, the rope would be running up onto the stream’s hillside, so a higher anchor was needed.
  2. The rope was trailed down to the litter crew to rig the pulleys, then off the stream and up the bank a ways, heading downwards along the side-stream bank. 
  3. To protect against a fall down the bank and into the stream, several anchors were tied along the length of the rope.  Due to the limited and widely variable anchors, some rigging creativity was needed.  Several anchors were webbing wrapped around tree bases or thick branches.  A minimum diameter of four inches of healthy wood was a guiding principle when judgment of anchor strength became critical.   One anchor consisted of two lengths of webbing connected with a water knot in the middle.  The top was tied with a tensionless hitch around a tree about 40 feet above the hand-line rope.  The bottom had an overhand on a bight with a locking carabineer attached.  For one section particularly void of trees, a 4×4 wooden post and a piece of rebar were put into the system.  Clove hitches at the base of each gave them a combined strength.  A second 60m rope was tied in when the first ran out.  The terminus of the whole safety line, in an area again void of just the right tree, was the base of a large clump of what looked like elderberry and buck brush.  The difficulty in crawling around the base one time made the multiple wraps of a tensionless anchor prohibitive, so a bowline with its tail tied off would suffice. (“Better is the death of good enough!”)
  4. The traverse line also needed to be tensioned to minimize the fall distance in the event of a slip or drop of the litter team.  To provide this running tension, and to provide tied-off sections along the line, a munter hitch was used at many anchors.  Once tied, a few rescuers would haul on the running end of the rope, pulling slack out of the system.  The munter was then tied off, under tension, with a mule hitch, and backed up with a clipped carabineer.  In one or two spots, even this was not possible due to the combination of bushes and terrain so a simple butterfly knot sufficed.
  5. The last 100 feet of the side banked section involved a descent down to the waiting litter wheel.  This slope also had enough of an angle that we decided to include a second belay line, in addition to the first tensioned traversing rope.  Two riggers from Marin jumped in for the task, throwing a wrap three/pull two around a sturdy tree.  To the best of my foggy memory they used a scarab device for the lower … but that may have been just a dream …. In fact all of this record could fall into that category so you should probably fact-check it at our next team training with everyone else that was there!

Part 4 – The thank you’s
In the midst of the emergency there is such an awe-inspiring but often invisible chain of hands.  When the need arose for more webbing, or carabineers — poof!  They would appear.  When the litter had passed by a section — poof!  The ropes were derigged almost by magic.  When my footing was poor as I was tying a critical knot — poof!  Hands from below steadied me (their footing must have been even more unstable).  Snacks were shared – helmets, gloves, and goggles passed to those in need … poof, poof, poof.  And how much more goes unnoticed!   The honor of occasionally being the tip of the SAR spear requires reflection and recognition of the TEAM who puts us there.  Don’t we all hope to be those mysterious steadying hands, standing ankle deep in the stream holding someone else up?

Team Commendations, January







Command Staff has selected Matt Shargel and Rick Najarian for member recognition for the month of January. Matt and Rick's exceptional leadership and quick, critical decision-making on the New Year's Eve/Day search on Mt. Tamalpias was an inspiration. This was a technical carryout over wet and difficult terrain, involving setting fixed safety lines and awkward belay work. Their direction during this four-hour-long extrication process resulted in the successful packaging and safe transport of the subject to CP. It also required managing the safety and responsibilities of about 30 people, but Matt and Rick were always on top of the situation. Bravo Matt and Rick!

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.

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. 

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. 

A Reputation Built on Experience

As we near the end of the year, I’d like to once again thank all of you for an outstanding year of service. With a little less than a month left in 2012, we’re on track for a slightly lower than average callout year.This past year we’ve had 47 callouts.

As you all know, training and planning takes much of your time to be mission-ready. When we combine training, planning and actual operations, the team has logged over 40,000 hours in service this year. This is an incredible number and a testament to your dedication to the mission. All 200-plus members participated at varying levels to make this a great year for the team.

Of the 47 missions, 16 were mutual-aid requests to counties other than Contra Costa. This number is slightly more than our average. The big difference was the number of Type 1 out-of-county calls the team responded to. Seven calls were true Type 1 calls. Over the past few years, the average Type 1 mission tempo has been two to three. I equate this increase to the team’s reputation and not to the number of opportunities.

More and more this year our team has been specifically requested by outside agencies to assist. This is a direct result of the hard work and professionalism the team lives by. The team’s reputation is a byproduct of that hard work.

We’ve had some pretty significant calls where the team truly made a difference in the outcome. Without going into details on each mission, I want to convey the appreciation the department has for your dedicated service. Every time you participate in a SAR event, you have the potential to make a difference.

A Search and Rescue career is based on education and experience. Active participation has a cumulative effect for every team member, whether a brand new academy student or a veteran with years of experience. It is one thing to take a class, but nothing beats the learning experience of a real-world search. When we call you out on a search, it’s because we need your help to come make a difference for the missing or at-risk person. When you do respond to the callout, you make an immediate impact on someone’s life, and while doing that, you learn and gain valuable experience to be better prepared for future missions.

Logging Your Hours – Why It Counts

Though it may not seem like it, one of the most important things we do (and apparently most difficult for some team members) is log volunteer hours. From the very early days of the Academy, new members are told to keep track of their hours and then enter them into the database on the website.

Why do we do this? Logging hours provides a means for record-keeping and, at the end of the year, all those hours are compiled and presented to the Office of the Sheriff. The hours demonstrate both how much time team members contribute and how that time is distributed. Last year, CoCoSAR members put in some 40,000 hours!

Included in this record-keeping is a way to determine whether or not members are maintaining their expected contribution of 10 hours per month (averaged throughout the year), and how many searches and trainings each member attends. Those who fall behind will receive “counseling” to address any concerns and after a period of time, if the hours do not pick up, those individuals are asked to leave the team.

Because members sometimes are confused about what hours to log – how many and for what activities – it helps on occasion to clarify the terms. As Capt. Kovar has stated, “People should use their best judgment when logging hours.”

That said, the following are legitimate activities to be logged:

  • All searches, from “portal to portal,” which means from the time you leave your home/office (or wherever) until you return (discounting any stops for non-SAR business)
  • All trainings as above, from portal to portal
  • All hours spent proctoring an event, as above
  • All approved and/or calendared activities that are undertaken, such as planning meetings, writing for the Callout, building items for USAR trainings, helping with logistics, hiding for the dogs, etc.
  • All Command Staff and staff meetings
  • All calendared T-1, 2 or 3 hikes, whether as an official hike participant or not

The following should NOT be logged:

  • Hours studying for EMR or any other at-home practice
  • Time shopping for or packing up/rehabbing gear
  • Social events (whether calendared or not)

The other issue some members have is in deciding under which category to log items. It is important not to lump times for separate activities together. If, for instance, you go on a training that then morphs into a search, be sure to separate those hours and log them appropriately. Planning meetings would be considered “staff functions,” as would writing Callout articles. Hiding for the dogs, logistics, etc. would fall under the category of training. And so on. Be specific in your description, as well, such as “Lucido search,” rather than simply “search” and “USAR monthly training” rather than just “training.”

Get in the habit of logging hours right away after an activity if you have easy access to the website. Or, if you don’t, keep a simple written log by your gear that you update as soon as you return from each event. Then just be sure to upload the info every couple of weeks at least. It only takes a few minutes to stay on top of it and you’ll be glad you did.

CoCoSAR Division Highlights, November 2012

November was a welcome relief from the abundance of activity in October. While there was only one mission and no recurring major trainings, the Operations Section maintained an active profile within the divisions.

11/06 – T-1 and T-2 MP search/Santa Cruz County (subject located deceased).


- Conducted a joint USAR/MRG rope training on Mt Diablo in the rain with over 20
  attendees. First-time introduction to high-angle systems including line attendants.
- Tim Murphy replaced Ed Perez as Training Corporal.

- Snow & Ice team started preparation and planning for 2013 recertification
- Conducted several qualifying T-1 (DEH) hikes
- Prepared prototype MRG Deployment Checklist.

Conducted full-team training in conjunction with Operations Division and Reserve Deputies focusing on safe weapons handling and medical procedures. Over 135 participants and included a barbecue.


- Continues to train twice weekly and employ team members as “hiders.
- Members completed committee work in drafting resource P&P manual and are
  currently working on the Training Manual draft.

- Held an intricate map and compass, GPS, geocache training throughout the
  Martinez hills.
- Held a social event at the Brenden Theatres in Concord.

- Planned and organized a team-wide social event at Brenden Theatre on December 5th. 
- Worked with the Training Division on marketing Type 2 hikes
- Maintained team roster, hours tracking and databases

- Started new comms trailer project
- Reprogrammed all BK radios so Tac 4 and repeater are on the same bank. This will
  make it easy to switch to the repeater frequencies during operations.
- Three new high-gain antennas were built.  Logs team trained on assembly and
   deployment of them.  Antennas used during UNO. These high-gain antennas are kept in
   the I.C. trailer until the new comms trailer is ready.
- Gas cans, radios and other equipment was rehabbed.  Both connex containers were
- Type 2 Academy and UNO supported with logistics and proctors.
- Keys to the Kingdom class supported.
- Logistics had a station at this month’s training on deployment of the comms van and the
  I.C. trailer to include setting up of equipment.

Mark Wilfer, for an interim period, has transferred Callout editorial supervision to Wilma Murray. Production of the Callout will continue with Pierce Plam and Natalie Zensius.