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Headquarters Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), through the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC), is the single federal agency responsible for coordinating search and rescue activities in the continental United States. It also provides search and rescue assistance to Canada and Mexico. Besides coordinating actual SAR missions, the AFRCC is active in formulating SAR agreements, plans and policy for the continental United States.
The AFRCC functions around the clock and is manned by people trained and experienced to coordinate search and rescue operations. The center is equipped with extensive audio and digital communications equipment. A comprehensive resource file in the center lists federal, state, local and volunteer organizations which conduct or assist SAR efforts. In addition, the center maintains listings of Canadian and Mexican SAR coordinating agencies.
United States Mission Control Center
The United States Mission Control Center (USMCC) is the U.S. operational component of a multi-agency, mutli-national program using satellites to detect and accurately position emergency signals from airplanes and ships in distress. The USMCC is located in Suitland, Maryland. This project is "Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking", or SARSAT.
Before the inception of SARSAT, monitoring of emergency locator transmissions depended largely on airborne aircraft or aviation ground facilities. This system provided irregular coverage particularly in remote regions. Rapid location by satellite significantly reduces search and rescue time, improves survival chances for accident victims and reduces exposure of search and rescue teams to hazardous conditions often encountered during their mission.
The AFRCC has a direct link with the USMCC, giving us an instant graphic depiction of distress signals being heard across the U.S. by the SARSAT system.
Check out the latest in SARSAT development here.
Department of Defense Components
The military forces may be called upon to assist in search and rescue missions for civilian personnel; however, their participation in these SAR activities MUST NOT interfere with their primary military mission.
Military commanders are responsible for search and rescue as it pertains to their own forces. However, since civilian and other military SAR resources may be extremely valuable to a military commander, the AFRCC routinely requests military units to conduct SAR activities within the inland area.
The AFRCC maintains information and procedures for requesting support from military units of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force. Civilian agencies desiring military assistance, or military units receiving requests for assistance should immediately forward these requests to the AFRCC.
Civil Air Patrol
The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) is a congressional chartered, nonprofit organization of volunteers devoted to the development of aviation through education, cadet youth programs, and emergency services. As the official auxiliary of the Air Force, CAP willingly and effectively conducts approximately three-fourths of all aerial search activity in the inland area.
The Civil Air Patrol provides SAR mission coordinators, search aircraft, ground teams, personnel on alert status, and an extensive communications network. When these resources are engaged in a SAR mission they are reimbursed by the Air Force for communications expenses, fuel and oil, and a share of aircraft maintenance expenses. In addition, CAP members are covered by the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA) in the event of injury while participating in a SAR mission.
The AFRCC maintains an alert roster provided by the CAP wings in each of the states and the AFRCC is the central point of contact for CAP participation in SAR missions. The AFRCC also works closely with CAP national headquarters and directly provides inputs for CAP training in emergency services. The Civil Air Patrol is the AFRCC's prime air and ground resource in the inland area, especially for extended searches.
Without Civil Air Patrol's highly dedicated personnel, the United States Air Force would find it very difficult to fulfill it's mission responsibilities in the 48 Continental United States.
Civil Air Patrol is our 1st resource!
U.S. Coast Guard
The United States Coast Guard is a separate federal agency under the Department of Homeland Security. Just as the Air Force has SAR coordinator responsibilities for the inland area, the Coast Guard is assigned SAR coordinator responsibilities for the maritime SAR area. The maritime area is generally described as the oceanic areas surrounding the United States, plus the Great Lakes and all navigable waters of the United States.
Since SAR regions are not construed as "boundaries to effective SAR action", and since much of the inland area borders on the maritime area, coordination between the AFRCC and the Coast Guard RCC's is a daily occurrence. Missions that transverse both areas are coordinated by the AFRCC or the appropriate Coast Guard RCC. It is not unusual for the Coast Guard to call upon the AFRCC for a particular resource needed to prosecute a mission in the maritime area or, conversely, the AFRCC to utilize a Coast Guard resource in the inland area.
Federal Aviation Administration
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), through its Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCC) and Flight Service Stations (FSS), monitors and flight-follows aircraft in the inland area. In some cases, individual citizens contact an FAA facility when they have knowledge of a probable SAR situation involving aircraft. Therefore, the FAA is usually the first agency to alert the AFRCC of an emergency or overdue aircraft. The AFRCC is tied directly into the FAA's computer network, and the FAA facilities use the system to alert the AFRCC.
One the AFRCC is alerted, the FAA and AFRCC work together to locate the aircraft. Initially, a review of all radio communications is accomplished with the objective of ascertaining as closely as possible its last position. Concurrently, other FAA facilities begin a check of all possible airports where the pilot may have landed. The AFRCC, in the meantime, contacts relatives, friends, and business associates of the pilot or passengers that were on board. Through these contacts, the AFRCC determines the pilots intentions, his flying capabilities, emergency equipment that may be onboard and other pertinent information which could assist if a search becomes necessary.
All Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCC) have the capability to recall recorded radar data. The NATIONAL TRACK ANALYSIS PROGRAM (NTAP) can identify and track targets which are at a sufficient altitude to be tracked by radar whether or not they are being "controlled" by the ARTCC. NTAPs requested by the AFRCC have proven to be very helpful during an aircraft search by providing the route of flight and last radar position of an aircraft being searched for.
With the congressional mandate requiring "most" aircraft to be equipped with an EMERGENCY LOCATOR TRANSMITTER (ELT), the AFRCC works very closely with the USMCC and the FAA to readily locate the source of ELT signals. All ELT signals reported to FAA facilities are immediately forwarded to the AFRCC and jointly investigated by both agencies as "probable distress signals".
Other Federal Agencies
The AFRCC uses the services of many other federal agencies. While each agency's involvement in SAR varies with their primary mission and availability of resources, all play an integral part in the National SAR System. A few are listed below to give you an idea of the diversity of agencies.
United States Department of State
Federal Emergency Management Agency
National Transportation Safety Board
Federal Communications Commission
National Park Service
U.S. Forest Service
U.S. Customs Service
Most of the states in the inland area have a specific responsibility for search and rescue. This may be a state agency without aircraft, or in other cases, a complete well trained responsive SAR organization with state-salaried mission coordinators and state-owned aircraft. AFRCC involvement with specific states differs depending upon the states assumption of SAR responsibility. Established SAR agreements between each state's governers and the executive agent for inland SAR "spell out" exactly who is responsible for the various emergencies and which agency will assume mission control.
When state SAR agencies elect to retain SAR mission responsibility, the AFRCC will continue to assist by coordinating the response of requested federal resources. For a complete listing of state emergency management agency web sites, click here.
National Association for Search and Rescue
The National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR) is a nonprofit organization of dedicated volunteers and distinguished professionals. NASAR promotes development and improved coordination among ALL SAR capable resources. Providing a national media for liaison and exchange of information among all SAR agencies, NASAR is dedicated to the advancement of professional, literary, and scientific knowledge and training in each SAR field. NASAR actively works toward developing improved coordination and communications among federal, state, local, and volunteer SAR groups.
Among the active volunteer organizations are the Mountain Rescue Association, National Ski Patrol, a number of SAR Dog Organizations, numerous local volunteer SAR units, Dive Rescue Units, Cave Rescue groups, and Four-Wheel Drive organizations. Even though these volunteer organizations are not federal assets, the AFRCC maintains a resource file on them. When commercial transportation is not available or timely for these resources, federal resources may be used, coordinated through the AFRCC, to transport volunteer units in an effort to save lives.