How search & rescue actually works

And SAR Myths debunked!

A typical case goes like this

  1. The first step in finding anyone who is lost or missing is calling 911 and report that person missing. The call is then sent to a patrol officer who responds.
  2. Once they arrive, they will work to ascertain the point last seen (PLS) and the date/time someone last saw the individual.
  3. After careful evaluation, the patrol officer will determine if additional resources are needed. It is not possible to search in every case. Cases which do not have an established PLS take much more time than with a PLS.
  4. If additional resources are called in, the initial responding officer(s) conduct a hasty search of the home and immediately adjacent areas. As personnel arrive, they will be assigned a task.
  5. During this process, a trained interviewer will attempt to get as much information as possible about the person and their habits.
  6. Law enforcement will generally contact area hospitals as well as checking the jail log.
  7. Trained teams are sent to areas of interest to look for any evidence the individual has or has not been there.
  8. Ultimately, the individual may be found and became lost for medical or social reasons.

Not every case is resolved successfully, however that is not due to a lack of training or experience.

SAR Truths & Myths

MYTH: You must wait 24 hours before you report someone missing because the police won't take it seriously.

TRUTH: Each missing person's case is evaluated individually, with actions based on that initial evaluation. In many cases, the police must balance the individual's privacy with the desire of loved ones to locate the subject.


MYTH: Runaways aren't taken seriously or investigated thoroughly.

TRUTH: A runaway case is evaluated individually as well, often times with background knowledge of the individuals "runaway routine" (leaves home, camps in Jills back yard, comes back 3 days later).


MYTH: I can't call this in because I'll get a huge bill I can't afford.

TRUTH: In Florida, you will not be charged as long as you called the report in good faith. City/county/state agencies MAY bill you if it is determined to be a false call. In either case, the services of River City Search & Rescue are free and we DO NOT BILL for our services.


MYTH: We can find someone using the location on their phone, often referred to as "pinging".

TRUTH: IF the subject has a cell phone with them, there are a variety of factors that come into play when it comes to locating you such as type & age of phone, type & number of towers reached, weather, and terrain. While apps such as Uber can pinpoint your location with incredible accuracy using a combination of GPS and wifi, only GPS information is relayed into the 911 center. Most often dispatchers see a 100 meter circle, which could actually be the tower itself.


MYTH: Organizations like River City Search & Rescue are well funded by taxpayer dollars.

TRUTH: The only taxpayer dollars that RCSAR receives are direct donations. Because we are a civilian team, we are not eligible for many government grant programs.