Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Search and Rescue and EMS in Utah's National Parks

The current issue of the journal Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, published by the Wilderness Medical Society, has a number of very interesting articles of significance to the layperson outdoor medicine enthusiast.

"Search and Rescue Trends and the Emergency Medical Service Workload in Utah's National Parks," by Travis W. Heggie and Tacey M. Heggie (WEM volume 19, pages 164-171, 2008), sought to identify the emergency medical service (EMS) workload and trends associated with search and rescue (SAR) operations in Utah's National Park Service (NPS) units. The information was gathered from annuals EMS and SAR reports for the years 2001 to 2005.

There were 4,762 EMS incidents, including 79 fatalities. There were 2290 SAR operations, including 67 fatalities. It is interesting to note that SAR operations most commonly occurred on weekends, involved male visitors in 59% of episodes, visitors aged 20 to 29 years in 23% of episodes (followed by visitors aged 40 to 49 years in 21% of episodes), and frequently were related to day hiking, motorized boathing, and canyoneering activities. Therefore, the environments included lake, desert, and canyon settings. The total cost of SAR operations recorded was $1,363,920.

In addition to identifying the specific parks needing EMS and SAR support, this study points out that there is a predictability to the nature of incidents, as well the expense of providing support. Interestingly, it was not possible to determine if the availability of mobile (cellular) phones, which were used to initiate 21% of SAR operations, made it easier to seek help and thereby somehow increased the number of operations. In more detailed analysis, the authors concluded that judgment errors, inadequate preparation and experience, physical conditioning, falls, and darkness were common factors contributing to the need for SAR. If for no reason other than this observation, the study is important support for education programs and resource allocation planning for EMS, SAR, and medical support in wilderness recreation areas.

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Preview the 17th Annual WMS Winter Meeting, "Wilderness & Mountain Medicine," which will be held at The Canyons in Park City, Utah, February 20-25, 2009.

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.