Clackamas County Forming Search and Rescue


The Clackamas County Sheriff's Office has revealed plans to form a new nonprofit search-and-rescue (SAR) team for Clackamas County -- one that will include local search volunteers working together with Sheriff's Office employees under a single, unified banner.

SAR-card-carrying search-and-rescue volunteers are invited to apply by March 31 to join the planned nonprofit Clackamas County Search & Rescue.

"Our research says this is the right way to go -- it's a model that's raised the bar for search and rescue in other counties," said Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts. "We hope card-carrying volunteers all join the new unified team. These are valuable working relationships that have saved many lives. We look forward to bringing those volunteers under one umbrella and making those working relationships even closer and stronger. It's the right move for Clackamas County."

The plan for the new consolidated team comes in the wake of months of research and study, as well as interviews with other search teams successfully using the unified-team model.

"This reorganization is in line with state law that governs Search and Rescue in Oregon," said Oregon Office of Emergency Management State Search and Rescue Coordinator Scott Lucas. "It's considered best practices, as it follows the Sheriff's Search and Rescue Advisory Council guidelines."

"NORSAR is excited for the upcoming changes and reorganization of our search and rescue teams," said Stephen Korpi, President of North Oregon Regional Search and Rescue (NORSAR). "We feel that this change will provide improved structure, teamwork, and organized leadership to help improve our teams' effectiveness during trainings and searches."

The formation of a single, unified search-and-rescue program for Clackamas County comes in the wake of recent litigation, at the recommendation of Clackamas County counsel, and following a comprehensive study that's now available for download.

By law, the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office is responsible for all search-and-rescue operations in Clackamas County. In the wake of litigation, Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts asked retired Undersheriff and former Sheriff's Office SAR-team member Matt Ellington to conduct a study of other search-and-rescue organizations to find ways to improve the Clackamas County model.

Ellington spent months studying SAR models and best practices throughout Oregon, Washington and California. He also interviewed a number of SAR leaders around the region to identify any recommendations they might have.

One of the key models studied: the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office's volunteer SAR program, which uses the unified-team model.

"At the end of the day, the Office of Sheriff is responsible for search and rescue," explained Deschutes County Sheriff L. Shane Nelson. "We have high expectations for how we deliver public safety and service and the people we hire to join our team. Given the fact these search and rescue operations can be emergency situations, high-profile events, and liability concerns, I want to make sure our team is supervised by our office, trained in a consistent manner by our office, and the equipment used is up to the standards of our office."

As this evaluation process continued, Sheriff Roberts also assigned Deputy Scott Meyers to SAR on a full-time basis, and assigned Lt. Brian Jensen as the new supervisor to oversee SAR. He also assigned human-resources staff to address the SAR volunteer background and selection process.

Meyers and Jensen also traveled to Deschutes County and Mono County, California (which underwent a similar restructuring of search-and-rescue operations) to study their SAR models.

In June 2019, Ellington turned in his report, which made recommendations on SAR best practices. You can download this report here:

https://dochub.clackamas.us/documents/drupal/be10c643-da93-4e47-9a91-9f9c1c949433

Highlights in Ellington's report included the following recommendations:

• Bring SAR volunteers under a single, unified Clackamas County Sheriff's Office Search & Rescue Team, with specialized teams operating under that banner.

• Have all SAR volunteers go through detailed background checks and a selection process.

• Have all volunteers train and abide by Sheriff's Office policies, while developing additional SAR-specific policies.

• Maintain records of all training to ensure compliance.

• Create a non-profit 501(c)(3) for Clackamas County Search & Rescue.

• Provide training and equipment.

After reviewing these recommendations and talking with key stakeholders statewide, Sheriff Roberts decided to move in this direction.

"The research says forming this team is the right move for Clackamas County residents," said Roberts. "Clackamas County search-and-rescue missions are rising. The county population has risen by over 43,000 people in the past decade. Local response times and communication will improve with a single, dedicated team.

"Search and rescue in Clackamas County involves much more than Mt. Hood -- it's demanding and complex, across wilderness and urban environments. If a major disaster happens here, this will allow the quick deployment of SAR resources dedicated to Clackamas County."

Efforts are currently underway to establish the nonprofit Clackamas County Search & Rescue, as a workgroup finalizes plans for the new, unified team.

"The nonprofit will allow for public donations to buy new equipment and train volunteers," said Sheriff Roberts. "The power of pooling our resources is enormous."

Managing for Results, which collaborated with the county on its Performance Clackamas process, will work to develop a strategic plan, and the Sheriff's Office is seeking input from experienced search volunteers.

Organizational details and an official launch date for Clackamas County Search & Rescue will be revealed in the coming months as the workgroup's planning moves forward.

As planning and discussions move forward, the Sheriff's Office continues to work with area volunteer search organizations on missions across the county and region.

Source: Clackamas County Sheriff's Office

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