Thirty-five people from private, borough, and state organizations came together this past weekend for the second annual Search and Rescue (SAR) Drill hosted and coordinated by the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers in the Caribou Hills outside of Ninilchik on Feb. 26. Besides representatives from the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers organization, individuals from the Homer Snomads, the Alaska State Troopers, Central Emergency Services, Ninilchik Emergency Services and Fire Department (a volunteer organization), and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management participated in what was intended to be a two-day drill. Unfortunately, severe weather conditions including high winds and wind chill temperatures at minus 20 or lower caused the second day of the drill to be canceled. The high winds also prevented the participation of the LifeMed Alaska helicopter and crew based in Soldotna.
With about 150 miles of groomed trails between the Snomads and Cabin Hoppers, which cover about 740 square miles of wilderness area for snowmachining (by comparison, the state of Rhode Island covers about 1,200 square miles), the need for coordinated rescue efforts and a good understanding between everyone involved is obviously of the utmost importance. Both organizations are dedicated to promoting the safe use of the trail system year round and the SAR drill is an effective and important tool to realize this goal.
On Saturday, the drill began at the Command Center which had been established in the home of Rick and Jaye Northey, who live year round in the hills. Rick is retired from Central Emergency Services and, with his practical knowledge of the Caribou Hills area and EMT training, is one of the first to be contacted when anyone has been injured or is lost.
After introducing the participants and explaining the plans for the drill, Mike Huckabay, acting as Safety Officer and representing the KPB Office of Emergency Management, and Dane Gilmore, acting as Incident Commander and representing the Alaska State Troopers, briefed the participants on Incident Command Systems (ICS). ICS is a formal system for organizing and documenting the participants and resources which would be utilized in the event of a search and rescue effort or natural or other disaster.
This was followed by a brief instructional class on GPS positioning devices, taught by Gilmore, which would be used in the drill that day. Four groups of searchers coordinated and synchronized the GPS devices they would be utilizing in the search for five "victims" in various scenarios located in different areas in the Caribou Hills. Each team of searchers was given the coordinates for a victim and dispatched. When the searchers reached their assigned victim, they were then given the coordinates for the next victim. All searchers were intended to recover all victims utilizing the GPS devices while maintaining radio contact with the Command Center. In this manner, the Safety Officer and Incident Commander were able to keep track of the teams of searchers and the progress of the drill, and ensure the safe recovery and return of the victims and searchers in a timely manner.
The drill was successful with all searching teams making contact and recovering all victims, and was completed in just under three hours, which was well in advance of the anticipated time that would be required for the exercise. A debrief and review concluded the day's activities.
The Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers would like to thank everyone who participated in this year's drill -- the "victims," the searchers, Homer Snomads, Alaska State Troopers, Central Emergency Services, Ninilchik Emergency Services and Fire Department, LifeMed Alaska, the KPB Office of Emergency Management, and the volunteers (Shari Blackman, Jaye Northey, and Shelley Ramsey) who helped with the food, organization, and preparation for this event. Special thanks are given to Rick Northey for his participation in the SAR drills and his expertise, knowledge, and experience as our first responder in the Caribou Hills.
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