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Search-and-rescue operations in national parks numerous and costly, but effective

October 20, 2009 |  1:43 pm

View of the Grand Canyon at sunrise.

A new report that appears in the online journal "Wilderness & Environmental Medicine" includes some interesting statistics involving search-and-rescue operations in national parks.

Notably, they're costly and numerous, but effective. "Without the presence of NPS personnel responding to SAR incidents, one in five of those requesting SAR assistance would be a fatality," the report concludes. "Future research and the development of any prevention efforts should focus on the five NPS units where 50% of all SAR incidents are occurring."

The report, published by the Wilderness Medical Society, has a catchy title: "Dead Men Walking: Search and Rescue in U.S. National Parks." Its authors looked at the NPS' annual search-and-rescue reports from 1992 to 2007 and SAR statistics from all NPS units in 2005. Some key findings:

--From 1992 to 2007 there were 78,488 people involved in 65,439 SAR incidents. These included 2,659 fatalities, 24,288 injured or sick people, and 13,212 "saves," or saved lives.

--On average there were 11.2 SAR incidents per day at an average cost of $895 per operation. Total cost from 1992 to 2007: $58,572,164.

--In 2005, 50% of the 2,430 SAR operations occurred in five NPS units. Grand Canyon National Park (307) and Gateway National Recreation Area (293) reported the most. Yosemite National Park (231) was third.

--In 2005, Yosemite accounted for 25% of the total NPS SAR costs ($1.2 million); Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve ($29,310) and Denali National Park and Preserve ($18,345) had the highest average SAR costs.

--Hiking (48%) and boating (21%) were the most common activities that required search-and-rescue assistance. Hiking (22.8%) was the most common activity resulting in fatalities. Suicides (12.1%) were second. They were followed by swimming and boating (10.1% apiece).

Perhaps all of this will serve as a reminder to be extra careful while exploring our great national parks and to be thankful that there are emergency teams close by if we need them.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: View of the Grand Canyon at sunrise. Credit: Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times

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