Another in a 2014 guest column series which builds on the one in 2009 where 50+ had written about how science /tech has evolved their hobby/interest.
This time it is Roman Bukary who I have known for over 15 years as a very smart software executive at companies like Netsuite. Here he writes about his awesome passion of pretty dare-devil search and rescue civic work
It’s 5 AM and I find myself in the backwoods of a National Forest with the nearest paved road three hours away. I am dressed in breathable, waterproof gear [an oxymoron but invaluable], base layers, carrying enough communication and navigation gear to launch the next Apollo moon mission, and in my personal pack I am carrying 30 pounds of food, water, and assorted rescue gear.
I’m out here for my hobby, or as my family describes it, my second job. I am a member of a SAR team in the California Region of the Mountain Rescue Association whose motto is to assist “Anytime, Anywhere, in Any Weather.”
When a child a missing, an Alzheimer patient has walked away from their home, a hiker is overdue, or a climber has had an accident, the local, most often volunteer team of SAR professionals get the call and respond to the scene to coordinate a rescue. While people have volunteered to help find their local citizens for decades, perhaps centuries, recent efforts have focused on technology adoption and usage.
Today’s Mountain Rescue Teams owe a debt of gratitude to early 20th Century Swiss, Austrian, and German mountain rescue teams that pioneered many of the techniques we use and in fact used some of the same tools (albeit not quite as high tech). In the US, Mountain Rescue was created after World War II when 10th Mountain Division soldiers and European immigrants organized early rescues in Washington State.
Today, when a person is missing in the woods, the local Sheriff (most of the SAR missions are coordinated by the County’s Law Enforcement) has potential access to: helicopters with FLIRs (forward looking infrared cameras), for water operations potentially a ROV (submersible remotely operated vehicles with side-scanning sonar), and of course the humans who arrive with their gear, their dogs, and their experience.
When I respond to a typical in-county search, I might be carrying a GPS device allowing me to access atomic-clock synchronized signal from the constellation of 24 satellites to pinpoint my position to within a few meters. In addition to the GPS, I carry my smart phone and usually wear a GPS watch (like most SAR people, I am a “belt and suspenders” kind of a guy… although I am pleased to report, not so in my professional lifeJ ).
The watch is sort of fun allowing me to see how many calories I burn on a typical mission but in a pinch can be my back-up GPS device providing me with location coordinates as well as ways to get back to the starting point. In addition I might also carry two different radios – one a digital radio used in my home county that “utilizes 30 frequency pairs in the 480 MHz UHF-T band designated by the Federal Communications Commission (the "FCC") for public safety and public service use by the Members. The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Title 47, Chapter 1, et seq. governs the use of radio spectrum by public agencies.
Our team is fortunate to have the communication gear and expertise to interlink various radios in use around the state and our mobile command post when set-up creates a local WiFi hot spot allowing us to create a network connecting our laptops with printers giving the search management team the ability to have a near-real-time view on ongoing operations.
I am wearing recycled plastic bottles on my body (also known as fleece) and more man-made plastic breathable/waterproof hard-shell, allowing me to stay mostly dry and somewhat warm. Unfortunately for most SAR/MRA teams, we get called-out when the weather is not cooperating so it’s going to be windy, raining, muddy, snowing, freezing, or if we’re really lucky, perhaps all of the above during various times of the mission.
When the mission is not one involving search but rather a high angle technical rescue, we rely on some damn impressive rope and pulley rigging systems… impressive in their manufactured precision and the strength-to-weight ratio. Here are a few examples of some beautiful and practical gear.
Rock Exotica’s “UFO” a multi-point attachment rigging plate is machined from a solid piece of aluminum and has a rated strength of 36kN (able to hold approximately 30-40 humans), the pulleys are similarly machined to tight tolerances and weigh less than 200gm. This sophisticated, light-weight gear is needed to allow us and other similar rescue teams to operate with a safety margin on 10:1 meaning the overall system is capable of handling 10 times the expected load. Finally, the ropes we use are a wonder of modern material science allowing us to operate in rain, snow, or dirt.
We usually carry or have access to over 2,000’ of rope in pre-packed 800’ bags because unlike typical climbers or climbing gyms we run two-rope systems – one for the main and the other for belay (see, another instance of the “belt and suspenders” operation ). We carry titanium litters if we need to rescue people over an edge and frequently rely on artificial high-points to help us get over the edge.
All this gear is fun, looks cool and we spend a lot of time learning how to use it, but the bottom line is that we are a volunteer team and all this gear and much more is designed to help us search, find, and if necessary rescue people who are not having a very good day.