search and rescue
Credit: Green Mountain Club

How Responsible Are the Feds for Search and Rescue Operations?

The Congressional Research Service raised the question in an updated analysis of search and rescue operations.

In an updated analysis of search and rescue (SAR) operations, the Congressional Research Service said the main issue lawmakers should focus on is to what degree the government is responsible for missions on federal land.

"Because state and local jurisdictions are responsible for most SAR operations on federal lands outside of (National Park Service) and (Fish & Wildlife Service) lands, concerns have been raised regarding the financial burden placed on local government in providing such services," says the report, which was published on May 7.

According to the report, federal lawmakers have attempted to address such issues with legislative proposals. Last year, a bipartisan group filed the Public Land Search and Rescue Act, which would open missing person systems to public and law enforcement partners, but the measure has stalled in committee. Then, in 2013, lawmakers passed the Good Samaritan Search and Recovery Act to make it easier for authorities to authorize qualified volunteer groups to search for missing people.

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search and rescue

Credit: Congressional Research Service

Yet, lawmakers might have an issue defining the extent of the problem. According to the report, there is no comprehensive source tracking incidents or the cost of operations. For example, while the Department of Interior collects data for operations on its properties, the Forest Service does not.

Additionally, the cost of an operation varies depending on the situation, but programs require spending on training, supplies and equipment, vehicles, certification, and other costs. Also, while most agencies track spending, they often include missions that cost more than a certain amount of money.

The last time the non-partisan CRS reported on SAR operations was in January 2022.