Friday, October 23, 2009

Dead Men Walking: Search and Rescue in US National Parks

The September issue of Wilderness and Environmental Medicine published the results of a study called Dead Men Walking: Search and Rescue in US National Parks.

The study was conducted by Travis W. Heggie PhD and Michael E. Amundson BS from the University of North Dakota to identify search and rescue (SAR) trends in US National Parks.

There are some interesting statistics and conclusions from the study that I thought hikers and backpackers might be interested in:

* From 1992 to 2007 there were 78,488 individuals involved in 65,439 SAR incidents. This translates into 4090 SAR incidents, on average, each year.

* These incidents ended in 2659 fatalities, 24,288 ill or injured individuals, and 13,212 saves during the 16-year period.

* On average there were 11.2 SAR incidents each day at an average cost of $895 per operation.

* Total SAR costs from 1992 to 2007 were $58,572,164.

* In 2005, 50% of the 2430 SAR operations occurred in just 5 NPS units: Grand Canyon National Park (307) and Gateway National Recreation Area (293) reported the most SAR operations. Yosemite, Rocky Mountain National Park and Nevada’s Lake Mead National Recreation Area rounded out the top 5.

* Yosemite National Park accounted for 25% of the total NPS SAR costs ($1.2 million); Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve ($29,310) and Denali National Park and Preserve ($18,345) had the highest average SAR costs.

* In 2005 the Great Smoky Mountains accounted for 3% of all SAR rescue costs in national parks, and had 63 SAR operations at an average cost of $2110.

* Hiking (48%) and boating (21%) were the most common activities requiring SAR assistance.

* Hiking (22.8%), suicides (12.1%), swimming (10.1%), and boating (10.1%) activities were the most common activities resulting in fatalities.

* On average, one person dies every other day throughout our national park system.

* The study revealed that during those 16 years young males, day hikers, and boaters needed rescue more than anyone else.


Without the presence of NPS personnel responding to SAR incidents, 1 in 5 (20%) of those requesting SAR assistance would be a fatality. Future research and the development of any prevention efforts should focus on the 5 NPS units where 50% of all SAR incidents are occurring.

Perhaps all of this will serve as a reminder to be extra careful while exploring our national parks, forests and wilderness areas, and to be thankful that there are emergency personnel close by if we need them.


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