News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Search and Rescue: Curtail risky outdoor activities

Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue (SAR) is asking Central Oregonians to curtail outdoor activities that put them at risk of needing rescue. The agency is concerned about the potential impact on search and rescue volunteers and on medical services as the region deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are currently seeing many people turn to the outdoors for recreation and exercise right now, which is allowed by Governor Brown’s executive order 20-12,” said DCSO Public Information Officer Sgt. William Bailey. “I understand that the ability to be outside and exercising helps maintain our mental and physical health during these trying times. This increased outdoor recreation has recently led to numerous lost and/or stuck motorists on snow-packed forest roads as well as lost hikers, snowshoers and snowmobilers.”

Rescues are more complicated right now because of COVID-19 restrictions.

“The majority of our search and rescue missions are carried out by our DCSO SAR volunteers,” Sgt. Bailey explained. “They are selfless heroes who like everyone else across the nation are prioritizing their own health and the needs of their families during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you get lost or injured and require SAR assistance, you are placing the SAR volunteers in a position where they may have to break social distancing requirements to rescue you. You may be potentially taking the SAR volunteers out of the rotation should quarantine protocols become necessary.”

The SAR is asking all outdoor users not take part in high-risk activities. These activities include backpacking, climbing, backcountry skiing and snowmobiling, or any other activity that puts people at risk for potential rescue. Those who venture out are asked to stay on well-established trails, do not go alone, tell a responsible person the details of their plan, and take extra supplies in case of an emergency.

“You will also be relying upon an already stressed health care system should you be injured, which will divert fire and hospital resources away from their pandemic response,” Sgt. Bailey said.

Additionally, travelers are urged to avoid snow-packed forest roads, as snow depths are hard to determine at times and manageable turnaround points can be rare.

Sheriff L. Shane Nelson said, “Please do your part to keep yourself, your family, and our community safe. We are all in this together to do our part to lessen the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you choose to go outside to exercise and recreate right now, we want you to be conservative and take the extra steps to do so safely.”


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