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Juneau Rescue Groups Practice Avalanche SAR Response Together
Published: 03/31/2011 16:26:00
When disaster strikes in the great outdoors; the many local Search and Rescue groups spring into action. Last Sunday, the groups got together to put their skills into practice as part of a full scale training exercise.

Tom Mattice is the Emergency Programs Manager for the City and Borough of Juneau, and one of the organize of the event. He laid out the scenario for the day: "A scenario of a helicopter crashing in the mountains, creating and avalanche. Burying multiple backcountry skiers. We've mobilized multiple rescue teams: Mountain Rescue, Dog Rescue, Snowmobile Rescue to come in and get those people out as well as get them all the way back to the hospital via Coast Guard helicopter and ground transportation."

The exercise took place at the Dan Moller ski bowl on Douglas, in an area that leveraged the assets of the Juneau Snowmobile Club's newly formed emergency response team.

Jeff Landvatter of the Alaska State Troopers explained the goal behind the large drill: "Well the event today was to try to do a joint exercise with all the different SAR groups that are in Juneau and get some practice working together. Usually they all train independently, but very seldom do we get together as a whole and train together so that we can utilize each other's skills."

One of the groups is the Southeast Alaska dog search team; SEADOGS. After 2 to 3 years of training, the dogs can find a person deep under the snow according to dog handler Mark Obien. "In this case, what we're looking for is finding people that are buried underneath the snow, in this case an avalanche. So the dogs are trained to locate people underneath the show, start digging down to them. And then we use shovels and other people to assist in the final extrication of the person" said Obrien.

Working alongside the SEADOGS was the Juneau Mountain rescue team who use tools like Avalanche Transceivers to locate victims equipped with beacons under the snow. The Civil Air Patrol and US Coast Guard provided search support both on the ground and overhead.

Though the State Troopers and the Coast Guard lead most searches in the state, they credit much of their success to the volunteer teams. "We wouldn't be able to do our job without he volunteer groups, that's for sure." Says Landvatter.

Mattice agrees that the teamwork provides for a powerful resource. "It's just great to see so many rescue groups working together in multi-agency coordination, supporting Juneau's efforts and keeping our citizens safe so we can come out into beautiful places like this and enjoy a great day."

By: Mikko Wilson -