For the Napa County Search and Rescue team, it’s especially critical to be prepared and ready whenever they are called. The 45-person group will pursue search and rescue missions across Napa and even to other Northern California sites, helping to locate people who get lost in the outdoors. And all this is carried out almost entirely by the ongoing efforts of volunteers.
This important group stays prepared through regular trainings. Yvette Skinner, a Napa County Search and Rescue team member and a member of its board of directors, wanted to make the trainings more realistic and difficult by using locations that none of the team members had been to before. By partnering with the Land Trust, the team could do this, in places they had never seen.
“I’m really happy to be training in these [Land Trust] spaces because they are places that people could get lost in,” said Skinner. “Adding the info to our maps so we know the conditions and hazards out there helps a lot.”
“It’s a big deal for the team to create these realistic training opportunities,” added Skinner.
The team trains at the Sheriff’s Department twice a month and in addition, once a month in the field, sometimes staying overnight. The field trainings often focus on a particular skill and the group brings whatever they might need for that particular challenge.
During one recent training at the Land Trust’s Linda Falls Preserve, the group was required to use a paper map and a compass instead of their usual specialized smartphone mapping software. This came after experiencing a search in Mendocino County in an area with limited cell tower connectivity.
“Sometimes we train with all of the tech. Sometimes with no tech,” said team president Jason Abbott. “We want to be able to use tools effectively no matter what the situation.”
One area of technology that’s recently helped improve the work of search and rescue teams is electric mountain bikes. The team spent the past year pursuing fundraising efforts to purchase the bikes and recently took delivery of four brand new units. In some cases, electric mountain bikes can help searchers get to areas much faster than by hiking, with lower impact than ATV’s.
“We take our impact on the land seriously,” said Abbott. “Not every property is suited for ATV use, and e-mountain bikes can also help reduce searcher fatigue.”
The partnership between the Land Trust and Napa County Search and Rescue originally started with the search and rescue team reaching out to the Land Trust for mapping info that could be helpful to Search and Rescue in case someone got lost on a Land Trust property.
That initial act of preparedness has now led to multiple trainings on Land Trust properties.
“It’s been a great learning experience for me seeing how prepared they are out there,” said Land Trust Stewardship Assistant Mackenzie Gilliam, who has helped coordinate the group. “It’s a good reminder of how important it is to always be vigilant in wild areas.”