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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

General SAR

I collect patches. How can I get one of yours?

This is one of the more common questions we receive. We’re sorry, our patches are never made available to non-members. They are given upon earning full member status on the team.

How is SAR managed in New Mexico?

SAR missions are conducted by a variety of agencies and teams around the state. Volunteer search and rescue teams operate under the authority of the New Mexico State Police. The SAR Act and SAR Plan are the two governing documents for SAR activities in the state. 

All missions are run using the incident command system. Specially trained volunteers, known as field coordinators, directly manage the mission on site.

How does a SAR mission get started?

Specially-trained State Police officers decide if the circumstances are appropriate for a SAR mission. If so, trained volunteers (labeled Field Coordinators) are called to manage the mission. They choose the management and field resources for the mission, and ensure that Planning, Logistics, and Operations are performed as required.

What sorts of missions are you called for?

In about 110 missions during the period from January 1994 to June 1997, we’ve been called to provide the following skills (some missions requested multiple skills):

  • Ground Search: 85% of the missions.
  • Litter Evacuations (including recovering deceased persons): 35% of the missions
  • Canine Search: 10% of the missions.
  • 4-WD Search: 10% of the missions.

How often is the team called?

The numbers vary from year to year and month to month. The team typically responds to between 30 and 50 SAR missions per year. Sometimes summer is busy. Sometimes winter is busy. There can be multiple missions in a week, and then none for a month. They can also occur on any day of the week or time of day, although weekends can be more common.

How far away does the team travel for missions?

The team can be called for SAR missions anywhere in the state. The majority of our responses are around the Albuquerque metro area

What is the procedure for team callout?

The appropriate mission management person calls our team page number. Two team members volunteer to carry the pagers for a month. One of these pager-holders contacts the caller and updates our hotline with the mission information. Then certain team members, who are branch leaders on our phone tree, call the people assigned to their branch. Members who can deploy leave a message on the hotline, and a few minutes later the pager-holder reviews the messages and provides a headcount to the mission management. Generally, the callout is completed within 1/2 hour of the page.

How can I find a full-time job doing search and rescue?

Sadly, while we are frequently asked this question, we have not yet learned a way to quit our day jobs. There is one full time, paid search and rescue position in New Mexico. The SAR Resource Officer is an employee of the New Mexico State Police who is responsible for the state’s SAR program, management, and certifying of resources. Other SAR functions in the state are handled by unpaid volunteers.

Some fire departments have specialized mountain/technical rescue teams, and several National Parks maintain full time SAR personnel.

How much do you get paid?

We are all volunteers, and nobody receives a paycheck for participating in SAR missions. Members are eligible to be reimbursed by the state for the cost of fuel used to travel to/from SAR missions and for certain designated state-level trainings. 

How long do you stay in the wilderness?

SAR field personnel are expected to be able to be self-sufficient for 24 hours, but usually you’re in the field less than 8 hours at a time. The time can lengthen considerably if the subject is found injured deep in the forest, or for certain assignments that can’t be completed more quickly.

What insurance coverage is provided?

The State provides coverage for travel to/from the missions. It also provides liability and accident insurance for mission activities. No other type of insurance coverage is provided.

What types of teams are there in the Albuquerque area and the State?

Cibola SAR primarily specializes in ground-based searching and incident base communications support. Other teams in the Albuquerque area specialize in technical rescue, horse-based searching, and canine searching. Many volunteers are members of multiple teams. Information about other NM SAR teams can be found HERE.

Do you need to be an Amateur Radio Operator?

No but many SAR personnel do obtain their amateur radio (ham) operator’s license at the technician level or higher. The team occasionally offers a class to help members prepare for the licensing exam.

Can my dog be useful for SAR?

Experience suggests that most dogs are not suitable for search and rescue, but a well-trained SAR dog can be a valuable resource. If you are interested in this aspect of search and rescue, there is a local team, Sandia Search Dogs that specializes in SAR dogs, and there are other similar teams around the state. While Cibola SAR does not have a “K9 Unit”, we do have some individuals who train SAR dogs; all of these members are also members of Sandia Search Dogs. Dog handlers train quite often: a quick peek at Sandia Search Dogs’ training schedule shows scheduled training events twice to three times per week.

Does your team recover anyone who has died?

Unfortunately, sometimes people die before we find them. We treat them with dignity and retrieve their remains for the benefit of their loved ones. Individuals who are sensitive to this aspect of SAR need to evaluate whether they can deal with such a situation. Of course, any mission can turn out to be a body recovery, and participation may be unavoidable once you’re in the field on an assignment.


How much does it cost to join a team?

It varies by team. Cibola SAR has a nominal one-time application fee, to cover the cost of documents that are provided. Of course, the gear and clothing can get expensive. Radios are the costliest item.

What level of participation would be expected of me?

All full members are required to attend a minimum of two training exercises and one mission every six-month period (January 1 to June 30 and July 1 to December 31), for a total of four exercises and two missions every twelve months. Experience and training are critical as the subjects of our searches deserve more than just minimal training and participation by our members.

Are there age limits for members?

There are no maximum age limits for membership. Generally, membership is for those 18 and over. The New Mexico Department of Public Safety does have an approval process for volunteers ages 16 and 17.

What level of physical fitness is required?

An “average” mission scenario would be the ability to hike for at least 4 hours, at a ~2-mph rate, in terrain above 8000 feet while carrying a 30lb backpack.

How often does the team train?

The team offers multiple trainings per month. There is not a set schedule, but the majority of trainings occur on weekends. Trainings can cover a wide variety of SAR related skills and topics, general outdoor knowledge, and medical skills. Some trainings take the form of scenario exercises, and some are held in conjunction with other SAR teams.

What gear and clothing is required?

A required gear list is made available to prospective members. For people who already spend time outdoors, hiking and camping, they will likely already have most of the items. Members are expected to be able to spend up to 24 hours in the wilderness and be self-sufficient during that time. Typical mission assignments last far less than 24 hours, but it is always good to be prepared.

Do you need to buy a radio?

No – but every search team (usually 3 people) is required to have at least one in order to deploy into the field. Most of our members have purchased their own radios, and list of suggested models is available from our Communications Team.


What other skills are required?

None are required when you start. We provide training in Orienteering, Communications, Safety, Gear/Clothing concepts, Litter Evacuation techniques, and other topics. Every Cibola member who intends to deploy on field missions is expected to meet our minimum training standard within a year of joining. Please contact our Membership Officer for more details.

Do you need wilderness survival training?

All field personnel are expected to be able to perform SAR duties safely in the wilderness. Inclement weather is one of the realities, and we provide information on how to handle it safely. In addition, our Gear and Clothing requirements go a long way towards aiding in survival. We do not learn how to eat grubs, make fire with two sticks, or things of that nature.

Do you need to know how to mountain climb?

No – in fact, the majority of assignments on SAR missions are for searching on foot. However, some teams such as the Albuquerque Mountain Rescue Council do specialize in ‘technical rescue’, which requires climbing skill, use of mountaineering equipment, and other skills needed to stay safe in a vertical or nearly vertical environment.

Do you need to be an EMT or paramedic?

No – but some SAR personnel have such credentials.  Most SAR personnel know the basics of Wilderness First Aid. Medical training is not required to become, or maintain membership, but is highly encouraged. Members who are not medically trained are expected to request medical personnel to the scene if the situation dictates. 

The team has medical direction for SAR missions through a state contact with the UNM EMS Consortium. This allows state licensed EMS providers to provide appropriate medical care to patients in the field.