On the Memorial

Entries in MRA (8)


Cave Team and West Valley SAR Successfuly Complete Reaccreditation

Once a year the teams of the California Region of the Mountain Rescue Association meet to complete a reaccreditaion in one of three disciplines. This year was the technical rock test, and it was held in the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine CA. Rain, wind, and a possibility of snow were in the forecast for the weekend, but as the date approached, the weather eased a bit. No rain or snow, but plenty of wind.

Each team must contribute a patient and two evaluators. The evaluators must have more than 5 years of experience, be a recognized leader on the team, and complete an online evaluator certification. Before the general briefing there is a team leader briefing, and a briefing for the patients. After the general briefing, each team is introduced to their evaluators and given a map to their test location.

Each team must quickly reach their subject, assess their condition, and evacuate them to definitive care. Teams are evaluated on a variety of criteria. Some examples are: timeliness, safety, technical proficiency, medical care, and leadership. 

While these evaluations can be a bit nerve wracking, I have come to enjoy them. My team grows and strengthens every time it is tested, and I get to continue relationships with fellow teams from accross the state. 

West Valley SAR and the Cave Rescue Team successfully completed their reaccreditation in technical rope rescue this year. Both of these teams are fully accredited with the MRA. Wrightwood SAR is accredited in search management, and SB Mountain SAR is progressing toward an accreditation with the MRA.



California Region of the MRA Comes to San Bernardino Co

The first weekend in March, the California Region of the Mountain Rescue Association, descended upon the desert in San Bernardino County for their annual reaccredition. Many thanks to West Valley SAR for organizing this year's effort. It takes a lot of time and effort to host an event that calls for hundreds of SAR team members from more than 20 teams to arrive at a single location with all of their vehicles, and related equipment. Not to mention, setting up all of the scenarios, arranging for "missing hikers", "missing evidence", food, etc. A special thanks to nearby San Bernardino teams: Morongo Basin SARVictor Valley SAR and the Barstow Desert Rescue Squad for assisting with logistics and missing people. Until you have attended an MRA reaccreditation, it is difficult to understand the amount of work that it takes to host one of these events.


The Cave Team, West Valley SAR, and Wrightwood SAR successfully completed their reaccreditations after tracking and locating a missing hiker, and completing an evidence search. All the while, the command post and field teams are under the watchful eyes of MRA evaluators.


The Mountain Rescue Association is the only nationally recognized body that accredits search and rescue teams. To be a fully accredited member, the team must complete 3 accreditations: Search Management/Tracking, Winter Snow and Ice Operations, and Technical Rope Rescue. To obtain these accreditations, prospective teams are mentored by a fully-accredited team until they are ready to test. The test is then completed by the team, and evaluated by other MRA team members from across the state. To complete a single MRA accreditation often requires multiple years of planning and preparation. For example, the Cave and Technical Rescue Team completed their technical rope accreditaion in 1999 after nearly 2 years of preparation. A few years later, the team decided to complete accreditation in the remaining two disciplines, and successfully completed them in 2006 and 2008. San Bernardino County has two fully-accredited teams (West Valley SAR, and the Cave Team), and one associate member team (Wrightwood SAR) who has completed the Search/Tracking accreditation.

2015 MRA Re-Accreditation

To be a fully accredited member of the Mountain Rescue Association a search and rescue team must pass a test in each of three disciplines: Technical rope rescue, snow and ice rescue, and wilderness search and tracking management that includes an ELT search. To maintain accreditation, each team must pass a re-accreditation test every five years. The California Region of the MRA has chosen to follow a re-accreditation cycle of every three years, so each year California teams test in one of the three disciplines. This year was technical rope rescue, and it was hosted by Sierra Madre Search and Rescue in Joshua Tree National Park. Next year it will be snow and ice, and Inyo County SAR is hosting.

In San Bernardino County there are two fully-accredited SAR teams: West Valley SAR and the Cave Rescue Team. There are two associate member teams who are progressing toward full accreditation. Wrightwood SAR has completed the search and tracking accreditation, and San Bernardino Mountain is preparing for their technical rope rescue accreditation.

My team improved dramatically during our quest toward full MRA accreditation. We firmed up our leadership, honed a few new skills, and became a more effective resource for our region. I highly recommend accepting the challenge. It will be difficult, and time consuming, but you will be better for it. Broadening your SAR involvement with teams throughout the state and country is an inspiring endeavor. You learn that many teams struggle with the same issues, and may have helpful solutions. It is an extrememly helpful network. Also, if you think you are too small, keep in mind that we did it with a roster smaller than 15.


Cave Team and West Valley SAR Complete Snow/Ice MRA Reaccreditation

On March 2nd, the California Region of the MRA came together in June Lake, CA to re-accredit member teams in alpine rescue (snow and ice). This year the event was hosted by Montrose SAR on the slopes of the closed-for-the-season June Lake ski area. West Valley SAR and the Cave Team successfully completed their reaccreditation that included an avalanche beacon search and technical litter evactuation of an injured person.

Each year the Califonia region of the Mountain Rescue Association meets to complete the re-accreditation of its member teams. A fully-accredited MRA member team has completed an accreditation test in each of three disciplines: search and tracking, snow and ice rescue, and technical rope rescue. To maintain accredited status, each team must successfully re-accredit every five years in each of these disciplines. The California Region re-accredits member teams every three years. That is, every year there is an accreditation in one of the disciplines, and this continues in a rotating manner. This allows for events such as those last year where there wasn't enough snow to complete the snow and ice test, but still enables teams to maintain their five year accreditation.

Associate member status is also available. As an associate member, a team must complete and maintain accreditation in at least one discipline. For example, the Cave Team was an associate member in technical rope rescue for nearly a decade before pursuing full accreditation. The only differentiation between associate and full membership is the patch and the ability to vote. I highly recommend that every team pursue accreditation in at least one discipline, as my team greatly improved as part of this process. I think the search management and tracking accreditation is the best first step for most SAR teams.


NASAR/MRA Joint National Meeting

I spent the first week in June taking a NASAR tracking class and attending the joint MRA/NASAR conference in Lake Tahoe. Between the rain, snow, and 70+ degree temps, it was a good conference. Here are some highlights.


The tracking class was great. It was a mix of classroom and field (both day and night) that culminated with a written exam and a large scale field exercise. I was afraid that it would be the same as the class offered by Joling and Heller, but that was not the case. The principles are the same, but they went into a bit more detail with the management of multiple tracking teams, and with tracking in a variety of environments and times of day. I think that this was the second time that this class was offered, and the instructors were pulled from all over the country. It was good to get perspectives from different regions. Evidently it is part of a new tracking cert by NASAR. I was not aware of this prior to attending. I think it is a good class. It is a good "next step" from the county offerings. If anything it gives you more "dirt time" to hone your skills.


Vendor Exhibits

I spoke with a company that makes hypothermia kits for the military. The kits are a tarp, hood, blanket with heat packs in it, and other things. The kit itself is self-contained and costs a little over $100. That is pretty steep for something that is a single use item, but the blankets are intriguing. You can read about them at TechTrade. The one that I think that my team would be interested in lasts for 8-10 hours and costs about $38. They are shrink wrapped in heavy plastic.

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West Valley SAR and The Cave Team Successfully Complete Recert

On Saturday, March 6, all MRA-accredited rope rescue teams in California converged on the Alabama Hills, near Lone Pine to demonstrate their rope rescue skills. The Cave Team and West Valley SAR participated in the event as part of their annual MRA recertification. Fully-accredited MRA teams must pass an annual recertification in one of the three disciplines: technical rope rescue, search and tracking, and winter/alpine rescue. This year's event was hosted by Ventura County SAR.

View CRMRA 2011 Recert in a larger map

Each team provides two evaluators and a victim, who are used in the evaluation of other teams. For example, one of our evaluators proctored the Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit's test, while the other evaluated Sierra Madre SAR. After an hour-long evaluator training session, there was a short briefing, and the teams made their way to the testing locations.

The typical scenario involves a patient raise and lower with careful attention to the medical care provided. Due to the terrain in the region, it was necessary to perform a number of operations to move the victim to an appropriate location. The evaluators assess 6 areas: Leadership, Operational Plan, Communications, Safety, Medical, and Technical. Each of these areas are assigned a score of 1-3, and a minimum passing score is 12. At the conclusion of the scenario, the evaluators debrief the team, and provide the score. If a passing score is not received, then the team must re-test at a later date.

Ventura County SAR finished the day with a barbeque of tri tip and chicken, which tasted great after a day in the field. Organizing such an event is a lot of work, and they did a great job. I am continually amazed at the number of well-trained, dedicated, SAR resources that are available to the residents of California. It is truly a sight to behold.


West Valley SAR and Cave & Tech Rescue Team Complete MRA Re-Accreditation

 The Cave & Technical Rescue Team and West Valley SAR spent the day Saturday re-accrediting with the Mountain Rescue Association. Each year, accredited teams in the California Region, must complete re-accreditation in one of three disciplines: Search & Tracking, Technical Rope, and Winter/Alpine. This year all teams completed the Search & Tracking exercise.

There are 19 fully-accredited MRA teams in California, so scheduling the tests is an exercise in organization. West Valley SAR and the Cave Team were on the same track. We began the day with an ELT search followed by a patient care scenario at the "crash site". The Cave Team's ELT plot from the day is shown below. For each team there were two evaluators. One evaluator accompanied the team in the field and the other evaluator assessed the command post crew.

View MRA ELT Plot in a larger map

The rest of the morning was spent on a grid search, where teams were scored on their technique and the number of items found.

After a quick lunch our search and tracking exercise began. We were given a bit of information on our missing hiker that included the last known point (LKP). Once we received this information we had to spool up the CP and deploy teams.

View Cave Search Map in a larger map

The Cave Team deployed a team to the LKP to cut for sign and a "hasty team" to quickly search high-probability trails. After these teams entered the field we were provided a shoeprint from our missing subject on a sheet of aluminum foil. This did not photograph well, so we sketched it and made it part of the paperwork for subsequent teams. We were able to email the sketch to field teams about the same time that they came across a possible print. The field team was able to snap a photo with a cell phone, and the CP was able to confirm that the track was, indeed, the missing person's. The direction of travel was established, and further resources were deployed. After nearly 2 hours from our briefing, we located our subject.

Under an awning to avoid the rain, the day ended with our evaluators reviewing our performance and offering suggestions as to our techniques and methods. Evaluators checked for medical techniques, command post protocol, tracking methods, and how field teams and managers responded to unexpected events. In all, it is a comprehensive evaluation, and one of the most beneficial exercises that our team does each year.

Having outside observers evaluate your performance as a team is key to maintaining your team's readiness. My team's proficiency has improved steadily since initiating the MRA accreditation process nearly 10 years ago. I would highly recommend it to other teams. Full accrediation is not a simple matter, but I guarantee that your team will improve as a result. If your team is interested in pursuing MRA accreditation, feel free to contact me at any time with questions.


Cave & WV SAR Complete MRA ReCert

Last year West Valley SAR and the Cave Team were unable to complete their technical rope re-certification with the Mountain Rescue Association due to a search on Baldy. The make-up exam was scheduled for a few months later, only to be canceled due to the fires in L.A. County. The third time is the charm.

The day started with a coin toss to determine who was the "host team". The evaluators wanted to run the test like a mutual aid mission. That is, the host team had requested resources, the mutual aid team would work alongside under the host teams command structure. West Valley "won" the toss and became the host team.

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