Colorado seeks to better support search and rescue operations across the state
A recently released study of search and rescue operations in Colorado’s backcountry hopes to improve how these volunteer groups are supported by the state in years to come.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife was commissioned to conduct a study with stakeholders to identify challenges to existing, volunteer-based backcountry search and rescue programs in Colorado through the adoption of the Senate Bill 21-245.
The study, released Jan. 17, saw responses from 49 search and rescue teams in the state, including the Summit County Rescue Group, as well as 41 sheriff’s offices.
“Coloradoans love our mountains and open spaces, but the increase in backcountry visitation unfortunately pushes volunteer responders to their limits and outstrips available funding,” said Jeff Sparhawk, director of Colorado Search. and Rescue Association, in a statement. “This study is extremely valuable because it allows us to be proactive and look to the future to create a more sustainable system for all of Colorado.”
According to the report, search and rescue organizations in Colorado respond to more than 3,600 incidents annually, more than any other state. There are currently about 2,800 unpaid search and rescue responders in the state who are part of nearly 50 nonprofit teams.
These responders donate over 500,000 hours per year uncompensated for training or incident response. The study also found that volunteers pay more than $1,500 a year in equipment, fuel and other expenses to respond.
The study assessed a number of issues in the state’s current search and rescue system, such as coordination, compensation, retirement, equipment, funding, training and education. security.
Some of the study’s key recommendations included strategically increasing the use of helicopters and improving field communications, as well as finding a single coverage option for workers’ compensation.
The report estimates that the 2,800 statewide volunteers annually contribute more than $4.4 million of their own money to search and rescue, and recommends that the state provide mileage reimbursement or stipends for help cover costs.
With nearly half of search and rescue teams believing they do not have enough equipment to carry out their missions, the study recommended that public funds allow for the continued purchase of equipment.
The study found that large teams have annual expenses over $200,000, while small teams can operate on less than $10,000.
“When you consider the (backcountry search and rescue) services that directly enable the successes seen in Colorado’s estimated $62.5 billion outdoor recreation economy, it’s clear that there are significant funding disparities,” the report said.
Currently, search and rescue teams are funded by a few main sources depending on the team: the local sheriff’s office, donations, and the state search and rescue fund.
The study recommended that the state search and rescue fund be administered by Parks and Wildlife in the future, which would allow more money to go to teams through Parks and Wildlife’s corporate status. Wildlife.
The report also recommends seeking additional public funding, engagement from other partners who benefit from search and rescue services but do not pay to support teams – such as the outdoor recreation industry – and the hiring of a development manager to work out other funding strategies.
The effort probed the mental and physical health needs of volunteers, documenting an increased risk of burnout and concerns faced by search and rescue team members.
The study recommended planning for necessary mental health services, training search and rescue professionals in critical incident awareness, mitigation and support, and coordinating clinical services.
“Given all the significant challenges that (backcountry search and rescue) face, the study team did not feel it necessary to recommend dramatic changes to the current system,” the report concluded. ‘study. “Rather, the best way forward is to develop new and innovative ways to support and enable volunteer responders to continue to serve their local communities and all of Colorado.”
This story comes from SkyHiNews.com.