The number of search and rescue missions in Oregon has steadily increased since the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to the Oregon Office of Emergency Management (OEM).
Oregon Search and Rescue Coordinator Scott Lucas said the search and rescue teams, particularly in rural counties, have seen a significant increase in rescue missions, including those requiring advanced search and rescue equipment.
“I can’t stress enough how important it is for people to make a plan before heading out to explore the outdoors,” Lucas aid. “Know your limits and make sure to carry the proper equipment and supplies – even if you’re only planning to be out for a few hours.”
In Wallowa County alone, there were two search and rescue missions in 2017, while 2020 saw 40 missions in the same area during the pandemic.
According to Lucas, they are also seeing an upsurge in inexperienced people visiting more remote areas. With more and more people seeking solace or adventure in the outdoors, popular parks and outdoor recreation areas are becoming overcrowded, leading some to venture into less populated but unfamiliar terrain.
“We are seeing rescues in remote areas where folks are heading out based on recommendations they find online or from a friend, but they aren’t prepared for the reality of the landscape," Lucas said. "Oregon is beautiful but can be dangerous, especially for those who are new to outdoor recreation.”
More missions are requiring mountain rescues and air assets rather than volunteer teams, because people are more often putting themselves in life-threating situations, according to Lucas. Many of these rescues could have been avoided with proper planning and realistic expectations. Knowing the best route, weather conditions, fire restrictions, and bringing extra supplies like water and snacks can make all the difference.
Lucas said due to impacts from last year’s historic wildfire season and ongoing recovery operations, there are additional hazards to consider; people should be careful and steer clear of closed areas.
There are many resources to help people know before they go. Oregon’s Natural and Cultural Resources Recovery Task Force has a recreation site status map to help the public plan by checking the status of popular recreation areas. Additionally, up-to-date road conditions can be found at TripCheck.com or by calling 5-1-1. To help reduce the risk of wildfires, the public should know and follow local fire restrictions.
Lucas and OEM is urging the public to stay safe with advance planning and preparation before their next outdoor adventure.
OEM’s Search and Rescue Program supports the broad spectrum of search and rescue operations throughout the state. That mission includes coordinating activities of state and federal agencies involved in search and rescue, including the Oregon State Sheriffs' Association and other partners, and providing on-scene search and rescue efforts when requested.
There is no charge for search and rescue calls. In case of emergencies, dial 9-1-1; most Oregon counties also accept texts to 9-1-1.