Original Research|Articles in Press

Search and Rescue in California: The Need for a Centralized Reporting System

Published:March 16, 2023DOI:


      There is no published information on the epidemiology of wilderness rescues in California outside of national parks. The objective of this study was to investigate the epidemiology of wilderness search and rescue (SAR) missions in California and identify risk factors for individuals requiring rescue due to accidental injury, illness, or navigation errors in the California wilderness.


      A retrospective review of SAR missions in California from 2018 to 2020 was conducted. This was done from a database of information collected by the California Office of Emergency Services and the Mountain Rescue Association from SAR teams, who submitted voluntarily. The subject demographics, activity, location, and outcomes of each mission were analyzed.


      Eighty percent of the initial data were excluded because of incomplete or inaccurate data. Seven hundred forty-eight SAR missions involving 952 subjects were included in the study. The demographics, activities, and injuries of our population were consistent with those reported from other epidemiological SAR studies, and there were significant differences in outcomes based on the subject’s activity. For example, water activities were highly correlated with a fatal outcome.


      The final data show interesting trends, but it is difficult to draw firm conclusions because so much of the initial data had to be excluded. A uniform system for reporting SAR missions in California may be helpful for further research, which may aid both SAR teams and the recreational public in understanding risk factors. A proposed SAR form for easy entry is included in the discussion section.


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