This lesson outlines specialized AvSAR search equipment available to responders. All responders need to understand what situations may require the use of specialized equipment, whether that equipment is available to their organization, and how to use it.
This two-part technology operates on the frequency-doubling principle and is now embedded into many outdoor clothing pieces. The RECCO reflector bounces the directional radar signal back to the searcher and doubles the frequency, allowing the operator of the RECCO detector to hear where the burial is located. This enables rapid pinpointing and leads searchers on a direct path to the burial.
Due to the unpredictable orientation of subjects in avalanche burials, reflectors are most effective when worn on a helmet or in pairs (pants and jacket, or left and right boot). The RECCO signal also reflects off electronic devices (transceiver, camera, mobile phone, VHF Radio, Automobile) but the effective range is usually shorter than when searching for RECCO reflectors. Electronic devices do not need to be turned off in order to locate a RECCO reflector.
RECCO is beneficial in all situations where the use of transceivers is unknown. It can be used to reduce rescuers by minimizing the number or searchers on the avalanche debris, and can also be used to search from a helicopter.
Dogs are trained to locate buried subjects who are not wearing a functioning avalanche transceiver. They are trained to seek the scent of a buried person while disregarding other smells and distractions as much as possible. Fully trained dogs can distinguish between buried human scent and the scent of human activity on the surface of the avalanche.
Dog teams also dramatically reduce the time to locate buried subjects compared to other search methods. They tend to be the safe option for searching, because they reduce the number of rescuers exposed to hazards, and can be a backup to rescuers if subsequent avalanches overrun the incident site. It is important to immediately dispatch at least one search dog team to any avalanche rescue call-out to avoid possible later delays due to weather, transportation, or proximity to incident size.
AvSAR Dog Team Operations. Specific steps are taken before and during AvSAR response to maximize dog team effectiveness.
In AvSAR training exercises, the handler encourages the dog to have first contact with a buried subject. This provides positive validation and rewards the work of the dog and handler. However, in a real AvSAR response, first contact by the dog could result in injury to the subject; instead, the handler restraints the dog and redirects it to continue the search for other missing people.
Contaminations and Distractions. Avoid contaminating the search area with any unnecessary scents, specifically, spit, urine, fuel, or food. Whenever possible, mark indications with wands and remove surface clues that could distract the dogs. If possible, record the location of all clues prior to removing them from the site. Also try to limit the number of personnel and equipment immediately upwind of the dog teams.
Socializing with the Dog. Dog handlers appreciate when all other personnel at the site behave as if the dog is not there. DO NOT PET THE DOG. This is the most professional way for responders to support the dog team.
Special Considerations. Dog handlers sometimes use the occasion of body recovery to permit their dog to experience the scent of a dead body. This attraction to the scent can reduce search time and rescue exposure time in future responses.
If approved by the coroner/medical examiner, the fatality is removed from the avalanche site as soon as possible to avoid undue distraction for the dogs during continued searchers. When a body is removed, the site should be probed to rule out the possibility of a stacked burial, and marked with three crossed wands. The wands inform the dog handler of the exact location of solved burials.
Large long-range single-antenna transceivers with low noise levels and a range of up to 180 meters have been developed to hang below helicopters. These systems are beneficial when searching large areas, multiple areas, incidents with multiple burials, or situations where it is too risky to expose searchers to the terrain.
Magnetometers are used to detect the magnetic field around metol objects and may be beneficial in certain situations involving vehicles. They are most commonly used in highway operations.