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Cave Search & Rescue. Photo by: Jim Goodbar. Cave Search & Rescue. Safety Requirements Human-Related Causes Environmental Causes Developing General Plans Developing Specific Plans. Safety Requirements. UIAA helmet Three sources of light Sturdy boots Gloves and knee pads Food and water

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Cave search rescue
Cave Search & Rescue

Photo by: Jim Goodbar

Cave search rescue

Cave Search & Rescue

Safety Requirements

Human-Related Causes

Environmental Causes

Developing General Plans

Developing Specific Plans

Safety requirements
Safety Requirements

  • UIAA helmet

  • Three sources of light

  • Sturdy boots

  • Gloves and knee pads

  • Food and water

  • Proper clothing

  • Surface Watch

  • 3-4 cavers

  • Experience adequate

Cave search rescue

Human-Related Causes

Getting lost: Some cave passages involve a multitude of junctions and possible travel routes that can confuse and inexperienced caver. If lost, it is best to remain in one place. If this is not possible, carry a watch and paper and leave notes with the time as you travel to help an arriving search team.

Prevention: It is always best to have a cave map and include at least one member of the caving party who is familiar with the cave. Foodstuff, strings, etc., left as a trail can attract animals and may not remain in place.

Cave search rescue

Getting Stuck: In most cases, an individual can get out of any passage that they can get into. Problems occur when gravity or apprehension become a factor in the situation. Calming the person down and/or removing some of their clothing can alleviate most situations.

Prevention: Be very cautious when entering tight areas that slope downward or have a keyhole shape. Enter downward sloping passages feet first.

Cave search rescue

Hypothermia: Proper clothing should be worn when entering a cave. Hypothermia can become a problem when water is encountered or when the group moves too slowly. It is wise to carry spare clothing.

Dehydration:Dehydration can lead to many other complications, including hypothermia. Sometimes trips can run longer than expected. Carry enough food and water to last longer than the trip’s expected duration.

Darkness: Caves are dark. Backup lights should always be carried. Carry enough light to last longer than the trip’s expected duration.

Rockfall and flash flood
Rockfall and Flash Flood

  • Rockfallis usually the result of caver activity. To avoid injury, cavers should move carefully, and should always wear an approved helmet and stay out from under others who may be climbing a rock or a rope. Natural rockfall occurs most frequently near entrances where weather rates are higher.

  • A Flash Flood can be caused by rainfall near or far from a cave. Individuals should not enter caves that are known to flood or those that appear to serve as drainage for large areas if rainfall is expected.

Bad air
Bad Air

  • The most common problem associated with bad air in caves is the buildup of CO2 caused by rotting vegetation. Cavers should be able to recognize the effects of elevated CO2 concentrations and must immediately leave the affected area.

  • Gas leaks can settle in caves

Experience adequate
Experience Adequate?

  • Caves are natural features, which require a high level of attention to safety.

  • Due to the wide variety of terrain found within caves, experience is necessary for assessing the requirements of individual situations. In most cases, unsafe situations can be avoided by enforcing good safety policies and insisting on qualified trip leaders. Trip-leader criteria should be established and training provided or required.

Cave search and rescue
Cave Search and Rescue

  • Cave search and rescue activities and tactics should be outlined in the SAR Plan, as an appendix to the Emergency Operations Plan.

    • It should address protection of cave resources to the extent possible

    • The plan should identify internal employees with cave expertise and training in cave rescue

    • The plan should address the interaction with other agencies and cave rescue groups

Sar pre planning goals
SAR Pre-Planning Goals

  • Organize personnel and equipment for urgent incidents.

  • Establish specific plan for initial response.

  • Make it simple enough that it can be used in times of crisis by multiple people.

  • Make it easily accessible to key people

    • cave specialists, managers, and dispatchers

General planning
General Planning

  • Cave rescue logistics

    • Internal

    • Regional agencies

    • Regional NCRC Coordinator

  • Medical pre-plan

    • List of local medics who have cave


  • Initial response plan:

    • Guides Incident Commander how to respond and who to initially involve.

    • First part of every cave rescue.

Photo by Jim Goodbar

General planning1
General Planning

  • Forms

    • Dispatcher Cave SAR questionnaire

    • Overdue caver questionnaire

    • Lost caver questionnaire

    • Injured caver questionnaire

    • Rescue team debriefing sheet

    • Rescue personnel tracking forms

    • Master copies of cave-specific forms

  • Practice and train: Mock-rescue

    training is good preparation

Cave specific planning
Cave-Specific Planning

  • Access

    • GPS coordinates of cave

    • Descriptions and maps of how to get to the cave

    • GPS coordinates of closest possible helicopter landing zone

    • Vehicle requirements

    • Basic information given to caving parties

    • Cave gate combination information

  • Unique situations

    • Map and narrative of hazards and obstacles and how to handle them

    • Minimum equipment list for extrication scenarios

    • Rigging directions and diagrams

  • Personnel

    • List people with cave-specific experience

    • List cave conditions and how they effect rescuers

Generic cave search pre plan
Generic Cave Search Pre-Plan

  • Pre-plan - Be prepared. Know the hazards and resources.

  • Interview - Information must be gathered

    • Contact surface watch or other knowledgeable parties

  • Initial Response Plan

    • Call Out - Trained help should be enlisted. Evaluate the urgency of the situation. Determine the size and type of initial response required. It is critical to wait for experienced personnel to arrive rather than send inexperienced people into a cave rescue situation.

    • Establish the Search Area - In a cave incident, the entire cave and the surrounding area may be considered in the early stages.

    • Hasty Search – To begin active search, quickly check out the most likely places first. Check the obvious, look for clues, report conditions.

Generic cave search pre plan1
Generic Cave Search Pre-Plan

  • Confinement and Attraction - Know if the subject leaves the search area

    • Guard entrances

    • Check vehicles

    • Maintain accurate personnel logs.

    • Place lights with notes or other attractions at key cave intersections.

  • Concentrated Search- Search passages in order of priority. Allows for maximum search of cave with the available cavers in the fastest time

  • Wide search - In complex cave systems this process could take a huge number of people an incredible amount of time

Generic cave search pre plan2
Generic Cave Search Pre-Plan

  • Rescue or Suspension - The goal is finding the person or determining that they are not within the search area.

    • If not located the options are: expand the search area or scale back the operation

    • The decision to scale back is a management decision and should be carefully documented

  • After Action Review - Identify the problem areas and the efficiencies; what worked and what did not. How can the cave search be improved or prevented the next time?

Modified from 2001, 2004, R. Kerbo, 2007 R. Kerbo –J. Goodbar Presentations

Photos by: R. Kerbo, J. Goodbar