By Randy Franks
Have you ever ridden Space Mountain … you know, the roller coaster at Disneyland? The one in total darkness where you can’t tell what’s next – maybe a sharp left turn or a precipitous drop? Then afterwards you’re a bit sore but unquestionably ready to jump back in line and do it all over again?
If you've never been on that ride, all I can say is: it’s exactly like CoCoSAR academy training.
The practical training – USAR at the old juvenile hall, land navigation at Briones, and the simulated search night – are so well-designed, the men and women leading them so capable, and the host of supporting proctors so knowledgeable and supportive, that it really is a perfect roller coaster.
There are moments that feel dangerous (a door-knock exercise that interrupts a fierce domestic argument), or risky (nighttime hasty search along narrow trails), but the setting is ultimately safe and stable.
And the pace is at times fast, providing the immersive feel of a real event (searching and clearing a cell block as a team, or pretty much any time on comms); and at times slow, with measured moments debriefing as a group, as a smaller team, or learning one-on-one (tying knots or manually plotting and reading UTMs).
I’m surprised to find myself making this analogy, because I came to Search and Rescue with a couple of decades of experience in backpacking, hiking cross-country and standing atop high Sierra peaks, with well-maintained first-aid credentials, too.
But when applied to SAR, all that has turned out to be like learning about roller coasters by watching YouTube.
(Academy Students relax with team proctors after successfully completing CoCoSAR's UNO [unexpected night out] training event. Photo credit: Ed Molascon.)