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NZ's SAR Guidelines Overview

Page updated: 25 November 2020

These guidelines explain the five stages of a SAR operation: Awareness, Initial Action, Planning, Operations, and Conclusion. Find out who's responsible for what, and get detailed guidance on the processes within each stage.

These guidelines relate to search and rescue and do not stop you from taking the most effective action in the circumstances to help people missing or in distress. The intention is to save lives, prevent or minimise injuries, and remove persons from situations of peril by locating the persons, providing for initial medical care or other needs, and then delivering them to a place of safety.


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Awareness is the start of a search and rescue operation. It involves gathering and recording information. It may also include some analysis and decision making.

About the awareness stage

People involved in Awareness need to gather, record, and analyse information so they can plan the right response.

Who’s responsible for Awareness

The Incident Controller is responsible for all parts of Awareness.

Gathering information

Gather, verify, and update information continuously.

Recording information

Record everything about the incident.

Deciding if a SAR response is necessary

Consider the circumstances to decide if a SAR response is needed.

Determining the SAR category (1 or 2)

Determine whether an incident is Category 1 or 2.

Identifying the emergency phase

Identify the emergency phase: uncertainty, alert, or distress.

Conducting an appreciation

Examine the situation to identify possible actions and formulate a plan.

Initial Action

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Initial Action is the second stage of a search and rescue operation.

About the Initial Action stage

Initial Action usually involves, activating, mobilising, and tasking SAR resources. It also involves all activity that assists with seeking amplifying information.

Who's responsible for Initial Action

The Incident Controller is responsible for Initial Action, though resources from other SAR organisations may also contribute to the Initial Action stage.

Activating SAR resources

Activate SAR resources by identifying them and communicating with the SAR organisation or individual the resource belongs to.

Identifying the effect you want

Describe the effect you want a resource to have when requesting a resource from a SAR organisation.

Mobilising SAR resources

Follow a process when mobilising SAR resources that have not been mobilised as a result of an agreed readiness plan.

Tasking SAR resources

Tasking can be pre-planned or planned by the Incident Controller.

Seeking amplifying information

Seek amplifying information by using a communication search, talking to relatives, asking the public for information, or carrying out other investigations.


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Planning is the third stage of a search and rescue operation. It focuses on creating an Incident Action Plan.

About the Planning stage

People involved in Planning use information to create an Incident Action Plan.

Creating readiness plans

Readiness plans help SAR organisations respond to SAR incidents effectively and efficiently.

Who's responsible for Planning

The Incident Controller is responsible for Planning.

Turning information into intelligence

Turn information into intelligence to plan appropriate actions.

Creating an Incident Action Plan

Create an Incident Action Plan that brings together different areas of search and rescue activity and documents how these areas will work together to achieve the operation’s goal.

Evaluating the situation

Evaluate the situation to plan appropriate search activities.

Developing a profile of the subject

Develop an accurate profile of the subject to help predict their behaviour.

Considering the subject's likely behaviour

Consider the subject's likely behaviour by reviewing the subject profile, consulting experts, and using statistics on lost person behaviour.

Considering possible scenarios

Determine the most likely scenario by identifying, developing, and analysing possible scenarios.

Creating a search plan

Create a search plan that defines the area to be searched, the resources that will be used, and the search method.

Creating a rescue plan

Create a rescue plan that includes information on SAR resources needed for the rescue, the staging area, and post-rescue tasking.

Using a communications plan

Use a communications plan throughout the SAR operation, and follow policies and procedures when communicating with the media.

Communicating with the media

Consider a number of factors before approving messages to the media about a SAR incident.

Creating a logistics plan

Create a logistics plan that includes information about sourcing and tracking SAR resources.

Creating a demobilisation plan

Create a demobilisation plan that sets out how to return SAR resources to a state of readiness.


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The Operations stage is the fourth stage of a search and rescue operation. It focuses on carrying out plans developed in the
Planning stage.

About the Operations stage

The Operations stage focuses on carrying out plans developed in the Planning stage.

Who's responsible for Operations

The Incident Controller is responsible for Operations.

Using the Coordinated Incident Management System

Use the Coordinated Incident Management System to establish appropriate lines of command and control.

Applying control across SAR organisations

Apply the appropriate kind of control during the Operations stage.

Maintaining a common operating picture

Maintain a common operating picture.

Keeping records of the Operations stage

Keep records of the Operations stage.

Deploying SAR resources

Consider the environment, weather, and terrain before deploying SAR resources.

Monitoring and re-tasking SAR resources

Monitor SAR resources to ensure they are performing tasks safely and effectively.

Meeting the requirements of different SAR organisations

Consider the requirements of different SAR organisations.

Considering the safety of SAR resources

Keep records of the Operations stage.

Communicating with the subject's family

Continue to communicate with the family of the target during the Operations stage.

Asking the public for information

Choose the most appropriate way to ask the public for information.

Communicating with the media during Operations

Be prepared to share information with the media during the Operations stage.


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The Conclusion stage is the final stage of a search and rescue operation. It focuses on suspending or concluding a SAR operation.

About the Conclusion stage

The Conclusion stage focuses on suspending or concluding the SAR operation.

Who’s responsible for the Conclusion stage

The Incident Controller is responsible for the Conclusion stage.

Concluding the operation

Complete specific actions before concluding a SAR operation.

Suspending the operation

Follow a process to suspend a SAR operation.

Consulting before a suspension

Consult specialists before suspending a SAR operation.

Peer review before a suspension

Get the SAR operation peer reviewed before suspending it.

Communicating about a suspension

Make sure the subject's family knows about a possible suspension.

Stopping SAR activity after a suspension

Make sure all SAR activity stops when a SAR operation is suspended.

Reopening a suspended SAR operation

Reopen a suspended SAR operation if you find out more SAR activity is needed.

Debriefing about a SAR operation

Make sure debriefs are completed.

Considering health and safety

Consider the health and safety of all people involved in a SAR operation.

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