With tech upgrades, Routt County Search and Rescue is getting to people in the backcountry faster
Better maps and new computers can get volunteers out the door and to a person more quickly
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When you’re trying to get somebody out of the backcountry, the more you know about the terrain you’re going into, the better for everybody.
Routt County Search and Rescue’s recently completed technology upgrades mean its team members have better access to more detailed maps, which, in turn, means they’re able to get to the backcountry to complete their missions more quickly, according to President Jay Bowman.
Search and Rescue is an all-volunteer organization that helps people out of the wilderness whether they’ve lost their way or are injured in an area an ambulance can’t reach. Their services are always free, though a person will have to pay for medical care should they need air or ground ambulance transport once out of the backcountry.
Search and Rescue purchased two new computers, two monitors, a projector and a new printer. In getting volunteers more accurate information and streamlining the way they receive information about a call for help, these new computers allow Search and Rescue volunteers to get to those people faster.
More accurate maps mean Search and Rescue can get to a lost person sooner, “so they don’t have to spend more time worried or cold or hungry,” Bowman said.
“We can get to them quicker because we have much more accurate mapping capabilities,” he said.
Having maps more accessible also gets volunteers out the door more quickly when someone needs to get out of the backcountry to receive medical attention.
“Rescues typically have to do with someone who is injured, so the quicker we can get to that person and get them out of the backcountry, the better for them, medically,” Bowman said.
The equipment replaces two 10- to 15-year-old computers used for incident command and administrative tasks. These computers used an operating system that’s no longer updated.
They wouldn’t run a lot of the current mapping or GPS software,” Bowman said. “They didn’t interface well with other computers that we have to interface with — other agencies like the county, the city and state.”
Before the new equipment, Bowman said the incident commander, the person who coordinates teams on a search, would get information about a person in the backcountry through “phone tag,” calling back and forth with Routt County Communications dispatchers to get more information from the caller who needed help.
Often, at the same time the incident commander was working to get information about the situation from dispatchers, team members about to head into the field were trying to look at maps on the incident commander’s computer to get an idea of what they were heading into.
“Everybody, when we were preparing for a mission, would crowd around the incident commander at that computer looking at the map,” Bowman said. It wasn’t very efficient, and it would drive the incident commander nuts.”
Now, information from dispatchers flows seamlessly onto a screen tied into the sheriff’s information systems. There are fewer phone calls between dispatch and the incident commander. Not only does a new mapping software mean they’re more detailed and more accurate, but additional screens means team members can prepare without crowding around one monitor.
“We’re better able to kind of pre-judge the terrain we are getting into, which is paramount to the safety of our team,” Bowman said.
One 50-inch screen above their lockers means team members can look at where they’re going while they’re getting ready, saving time that volunteers used to spend running upstairs to look at maps with the incident commander. Another screen in the incident command room allows them to see the terrain on a larger television screen. With a better functioning printer, team members can get hand copies of maps to use in addition to GPS devices they use in the field.
If it’s a larger, more complicated incident, they can also use a new projector to make it large enough for a room full of first responders to see. The projector will also be used to show training videos to keep current volunteers up to date and prepare new members.
Search and Rescue spent about $16,000 on the upgrades, including $3,100 from the Impact100 grant, which Bowman said was the “impetus” of pursuing the upgraded technology, with Impact100 dollars serving as the down payment.
Impact100 is a Yampa Valley Community Foundation program that aims to gather 100 donations of $100. That $10,000 is then granted to organizations at a social event in April.
“We are funded in part by the county and the city, but a full 40% of our annual budget comes from donations and through fundraising. That’s a really crucial part of us being able to maintain our equipment and keep things up to date.”
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Routt County’s Human Resources Coalition has outlined a three-year plan to help vulnerable county residents, putting particular focus on affordable housing, transit and mental health.