“The saving of human life will take precedence over all other management actions as the Park Service strives to protect human life and provide injury free visits” –  NPS Management Policies, 2006, Section

Search and Rescue (SAR) is one of the most important jobs that rangers do. Rangers save lives, bandage wounds and provide comfort. An understanding of Search and Rescue is essential for all NPS staff.

Even if an employee’s job description does not list search and rescue (SAR) as a direct responsibility, it is possible that any employee may be drawn into the process, either to assist professional medical staff as a witness/reporting party or as an emergency point of contact. Therefore, it is imperative that all employees know and understand what they may be responsible for when emergencies arise. At the very least, employees who are the initial contact for a reporting party should know how to take a thorough report and ensure that the reporting party can be reached for further information.

What you’ll find

Principles of Search and Rescue (found in Emergency Preparedness and Emergency Operations) are:

  • Do not put rescuers in unnecessary danger
  • Do not create a situation where rescuers need to be rescued
  • Make reasonable efforts (see: NPS Management Policies, 2006, Section
  • SAR response may be provided by the NPS or outside expertise
  • NPS will not charge for rescues as per NPS Management Policies (exceptions – courts may order restitution, private contractors may bill for rescue services)
  • SAR operations will be conducted using Incident Command System (ICS)

Point of Contact:

Andrew Hower | CLP profile and contact | Phone 202-513-7093


Although the NPS Management Policies state that saving human life takes precedence over all other management actions, this does not require the National Park Service to put its rescuers in unnecessary peril. It is important to understand any requirements of your position as well as the expectations of your supervisor to determine the level of SAR training that you may need. There are sources for both basic and advanced/technical training. Individual park units may have very specific requirements.

  • Why do you think all NPS staff should have at least, a basic understanding of Search and Rescue?
  • Which is the best level of SAR training for your position and/or specific park?

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  2. Hi Nicholas – It appears that that resource is no longer available publicly. We’ve fixed the link to redirect to a resource in which the Basic Principles were taken from. Thank you for bringing this to our attention!

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