Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What is the Upper Valley Wilderness Response Team?
The Upper Valley Wilderness Response Team (UVWRT) is an all volunteer search and rescue (SAR) team based out of Hanover, NH. The team will respond to any location within a 3 hour radius (by car) of Hanover to provide manpower for searches and non-technical rescues. This is a vast area that covers much of New Hampshire and Vermont. The team is also able to respond to more distant locations upon special request.
The team is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and will respond prepared to be self-sufficient in the field for 24 hours. Although UVWRT's specialty is wilderness search and rescue, the team is available to respond to any need for organized emergency manpower.
In addition, UVWRT also functions as a source of education and training for all aspects of search and rescue. UVWRT is a recognized Dartmouth Medical School community Service Project with 501(c) federal non-profit status. The team is also part of the New Hampshire SAR Working Group, an organization that helps address issues of the New Hampshire SAR community.
Q. Whoa! 24 hours a day, 7 days a week?
Yes, UVWRT attempts to be serviceable 24 hours a day, year round. But, of course, the team is a volunteer organization - that means people have to take time out of their busy schedules to respond, but it also means that they only do so when conditions permit. SAR calls come at inconvenient times and not everyone is able to drop everything and respond. Members are to make all reasonable attempts to respond to a call out request, but they are obviously left to use their own discretion to decide when they can make a call. The team size generally ranges from 20-40 members; with the idea being that from the general membership, enough people to field a functional team will be able to respond at any given time.
Attendance expectations are obviously higher for the prescheduled meetings and drills than for real call outs, although there aren't any penalties or cruel and unusual punishments for missing something. But that doesn't mean that membership isn't a serious thing. We really do ask that you think about whether you can make a commitment to the team. If you can, we can overcome any scheduling hurdles.
Q. Is there a need for such a team?
Yes! The need for a local SAR team became apparent through consultations with the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game (the agency responsible for SAR operations in New Hampshire).
In the fall of 1995, when UVWRT went "active" meaning that it was ready to respond to calls for search and rescue, it was immediately utilized by both the New Hampshlre and the Vermont search and rescue authorities. It has continued to be used by those agencies and has been involved in multiple SAR operations.
Q. What is search and rescue?
Search and rescue entails efforts to:
victims of various circumstances. SAR calls can cover a large spectrum of categories - from children who wander off into the woods to overdue hikers and anything in between.
It is important to realize that SAR is not usually the glamorous activity often portrayed by the media. Search and rescue operations are very manpower intensive and they therefore require complicated management. There are often long hours spent performing "tedious" tasks. But, it is the price paid to participate in an activity that can be life-saving!
Q. How does UVWRT get called out for a SAR operation?
All UVWRT officers carry pagers (the service is currently donated by Central Vermont Communications of Rutland, VT) linked to a single number. This dispatch number is used by requesting agencies to contact the team. Officers can then alert general members by phone and by email (for those members who have access). However, general members are highly encouraged to purchase a team pager as well to increase the efficiency of a call out. For a discounted price of $40, members may acquire a pager linked to the team (but not an individual) number. (Monthly access fees are waived courtesy of Central Vermont Communications.) Members who purchase team pagers are asked to donate those pagers to the team should they decide to leave the team.
Q. What does UVWRT do on a call out?
In New Hampshire, all SAR operations are managed by the State Department of Fish and Game, while in Vermont it is the State Police who fulfill the SAR management role. Either of these two agency's has the authority to request UVWRT's assistance for a SAR operation. Other recognized agencies (Fire Departments, Disaster Services, etc.) may also request the services of UVWRT.
UVWRT is designed to provide trained searchers (and rescuers!) for use in the field and they may be utilized in any fashion at the discretion of the requesting agency. Assignments have typically ranged from active search efforts, including carryout requests, to passive search efforts such as monitoring trailheads. It is important to realize that UVWRT is NOT a technical (rope) rescue team and its members are not expected to perform duties for which they were not trained.
Q. Who makes up the team?
Anybody is welcome to join the team. But, if you're asking what the team looks like now - UVWRT is currently comprised of graduate and undergraduate students, local residents, and members of local emergency services. Almost all members are certified to the level of first responder or EMT (but this level of training is not required). All are competent in the outdoors. A majority of members have received recognized training in the basics of SAR operations, and all participate in training exercises to increase and maintain their proficiency with various skills. However, no special training is required prior to becoming a member, and anyone is welcome to join.
Q. How is UVWRT organized?
UVWRT's structure and organization are described in (excruciating) detail in the UVWRT Constitution and By-Laws. While there are elected officers in designated leadership roles, UVWRT is designed with flexibility in mind and the ultimate goal of a smooth integration with the Incident Command Center(ICS). [What is ICS? - An internationally recognized standard disaster management system in current use throughout the U.S.] Details of operational outlines, as well as a brief outline of the ICS, are described in the UVWRT Standard Operating Procedures
So what does all that mean? We have elected and appointed officers who run the day to day routines, as well as those that lead in the field. Since most likely not everyone can make every call, the field leadership roles are flexible, with certain roles to be designated as a call develops.
Q. What is the "command" system of UVWRT?
While there is a clear chain of command, UVWRT is not run in a "militaristic" or paramilitary manner. The structure that is described in the question above allows for efficient functioning by permitting and encouraging initiative for further team development, but all the while balanced by a set structure.
It is important to realize, however, that there are two separate atmospheres under which the team operates. The first is the day to day routine of training and existence, where everyone has a say and group discussion is an option. The second atmosphere occurs in the field, where there is a rigid set-up dictated by an explicit chain of command. This is a necessary feature for safe and efficient operations in the field.
All members are autonomous to the degree that they can not be asked to do to do anything they are not willing to do. Any UVWRT officer can dismiss someone from the field at any time without discussion, and that person must be prepared to leave as ordered. This is only done when necessary to protect the group and maintain the safety of its members. It is a condition of membership that members understand and accept this situation.
That having been said, the group is always open to suggestions and discussion. In fact, the team and its officers highly encourage feedback, comments, critiques, suggestions, and initiative. As a volunteer there is always work to be done and new areas to explore, and all efforts to help the team along its way are welcome!
Q. What is required to become a member?
Membership in UVWRT is acquired through a standardized application process. There are basic requirements including the following:
Please note: Final acceptance is always at the discretion of the UVWRT officers, regardless of qualifications, and membership applications may be denied or put on hold to maintain a manageable team size.
Q. What are the general requirements for being a member?
Once someone becomes a member they have some basic obligations to meet:
Q. What about personal responsibility and liability?
Ohh... the legal stuff....
Insurance postscript: While on a call under the direction of NH Fish and Game SAR personnel, once they're signed in at the scene with Fish and Game are covered by a limited state insurance policy.
Q. When does the UVWRT meet?
UVWRT holds general meetings and/or drills on the order of once a month.
New members are not required to have any previous experience with, or any official training in, SAR operations. (Of course it doesn't hurt to have had such exposure.) We work as a team to prepare people for the field (e.g., the monthly drills), but we also ask that members take some time to develop their skills on their own. All new members are asked to attend the one day "SAR Basics" course run, several times a year (currently run at no cost).
In addition to monthly team drills, numerous other (completely open) skill development opportunities are offered. Short seminars on various topics occur fairly regularly (In fact, if you are well versed in a particular area and would like to share your knowledge and skill, we invite you to teach others on the team.) The team shares a particularly strong medical background, and there is a medical "sub-team" that works with the Dartmouth Hitchcock Emergency Department and local Emergency Medical Servicers to offer various opportunities to team members and the community. (For example, the team sponsors EMT classes, CPR sessions and runs a Wilderness Medicine Institute Group through the Dartmouth Medical School.)
Having said all that, there are a few other things to note:
Q. So what's the overall time commitment and will joining the UVWRT help pad my resume?
UVWRT does not exist to help you with your resume! It is a serious commitment. You will find that UVWRT is very accommodating to interested and dedicated people who may have difficult schedules to work with. On the other hand, participation is paramount to being a successful member. UVWRT is serious about maintaining a professional level of dedication.
The absolute minimum: All members are expected to attend the monthly drills which tend to average 2-4 hours. Outside of drills and meetings members are expected to (1) maintain preparedness for callouts and (2) monitor and participate in team communications. There's no question, membership requires commitment, energy, and time - but it's worth it!
Of course you are encouraged to set your sights higher than the minimum as the opportunities that exist within the team are almost boundless! If you have certain skills that might be useful, share them! Teach them! If you knew nothing about SAR then come and learn - then help teach others. We ask that you take some initiative - present ideas, topics, and projects. Get involved. If you find that others know more than you in some area - learn from them!
In the end, of course, you get out of UVWRT what you put in. There are many avenues in the world of SAR ready for exploration. You're dedication can help open new opportunities and new learning experiences for everyone on the team.