es. “Spring or fall is the worst time to travel on
these rivers—before they’re frozen solid and
when they’re starting to thaw,” says Adams.
The slow season for AST search and rescue
is between hunting season and snow machine
season, says Adams. “From October 1st un-
til mid-November we get a lull where things
slow down, and then we get into early winter
The US Coast Guard (USCG) also sees sea-
sonal changes in search and rescue calls. “Like
the Lower 48, busy season is normally the
summer,” says USCG 17th District Search and
Rescue Specialist Paul Webb. “But Alaska has a
large maritime fishing industry that is a year-
round operation. We stay steady through most
of the year. Bet ween October and the beginning
of January is the slowest portion of the year.”
Sharing Responsibilities and Resources
There are four broad categories of search and
rescue missions, each covered by a different
agency: the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center handles aeronautical calls; USCG deals
with maritime search and rescue; National
Park Service is responsible for search and rescue missions on federal lands; and AS T are the
first line of response for land-based search and
rescue outside national parks.
The divisions of responsibility have more
to do with who is managing an incident and
coordinating resources than who is executing
the actual mission. In reality, everyone works
together. This has a lot to do with the scarcity of
available resources and the geographic proxim-
ity of assets or expertise to a particular incident.
For example, when other entities cannot
reach a location, USCG gets involved with
land-based emergencies. This may include
helping lost hunters and hikers, medical evacuation of the injured, and transport of patients
from remote clinics to hospitals and trauma
centers that offer a higher level of care.
For non-medical incidents such as lost
hunters or stranded tourists, USCG coordinates with AST. Other missions may involve
local police and fire departments; the US
Air Force; Alaska Air National Guard and
Alaska Army Guard; the North Slope Borough Search and Rescue; and the many local
volunteer search and rescue organizations
around the state.
Although the National Park Service and
Volunteers: Saving Lives,
AST are technically responsible for search and
rescue on federal and state lands, respectively,
they have an official Memorandum of Under-
standing and often work together. “Because
the Park Service has resources available to re-
spond to incidents, AST will often defer to us
to complete a mission,” says Erika Jostad, Na-
tional Park Service chief ranger at Denali Na-
tional Park and Preserve. “Occasionally they’ll
ask us to complete a mission just outside our
boundaries. And when the parks don’t have
the necessary resources to complete a rescue,
we’ll ask AST to come into the park and help.”
“The state is like a small town,” says Jostad.
“None of us have enough resources where we
can say things like, ‘Hey, that’s mine.’ So we
work really well together.”
Although AS T have statute authority for land-based search and rescue, they don’t have the
resources to conduct missions themselves.
There simply aren’t enough troopers, and budget cuts have taken a toll on the state troopers.
“The most important challenge or constraint
is funding,” says Adams. “We rely heavily on
volunteer organizations that are basically self-funded through donations from the public.
US Army Alaska Aviation Task
Force in conjunction with the
Alaska State Troopers and
Wilderness Search and Rescue
conduct a training medical
evacuation to test the agencies’
cooperation and reaction time in
case of an emergency situation
within the Interior of Alaska.
Photo by Staff Sgt. Sean Callahan