APRS Automatic Position Reporting System. Connecting a GPS unit to a radio, then having the radio “beacon” at regular intervals allows others to know the radio’s position.

Attraction. Doing something that, if the search subject is in the area, is likely to make him or her do something to attract searchers’ attention, or make the search subject come to the searcher. Examples: calling their name, signal fires, flags, signs, low-flying aircraft. See also Confinement.


Bearing. The direction from where you are to where you want to go.

Buffalo or Buff. De Havilland Canada DHC-5 Buffalo STOL transport aircraft used by the Canadian Forces under the designation CC-118 Buffalo. Very useful for SAR in the mountains because of its power, ability to fly slow, and high lift. Soon to be retired, although no replacement has yet been selected. Do not confuse with the American Boeing B-52 bomber, which is nicknamed BUFF.


Cartographically Heisenberged. SAR people never get lost, but they have been known to be influenced by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

CALSARA. Calgary Search and Rescue Association. Ground SAR group in Calgary. Being our nearest neighbouring group, Foothills SAR often works with it.

CASARA. Civil Air Search And Rescue Assocation. Civilian volunteer aeronautical SAR group. Has ‘zones’ across Canada. Assists the Canadian Forces, and are tasked by them.

CCG. Canadian Coast Guard. Federal government organization responsible for marine SAR. Part of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). CCGA Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary. Civilian volunteer marine SAR group. Works closely with the Coast Guard.

CO. Conservation Officer. The park rangers who work for the province of Alberta are called conservation officers. There are two types of COs, some work for Parks and Recreation, the others work for Sustainable Resource Development. Humorously defined as “Coffee Only” or “Conversation Officer” (see also GRC and RCMP).

Confinement. Using a combination of natural and artificial barriers to reduce the chance that a search subject can enter or leave an area without being noticed. Examples: rivers, roadblocks, track traps, strings across the trail, infra-red detectors with alarms. See also Attraction.


Cormorant. AgustaWestland (EH Industries) EH-101 helicopter used by the Canadian Forces under the designation CH-149 Cormorant. Now in service as the replacement for the Labrador as the primary SAR helicopter, it flew its first operational mission on 28 July 2002. Longer range, three engines, anti- and de-icing gear, and a sophisticated autopilot give it many advantages over its predecessor.

Critical Incident. Any event which is powerful enough to overwhelm a person’s normal coping mechanisms.

Critical Incident Stress. A normal reaction of normal people to abnormal events. Although the degree of reaction varies from person to person, everyone has a potential to be affected by the symptoms associated with a traumatic event. Some symptoms may include recurring or intrusive thoughts, difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbance, nausea, anger, guilt, sadness, withdrawal, or change in eating/drinking habits.

Critical Incident Stress Debriefing or Critical Incident Stress Management. Abbreviated as CISD or CISM. The training, the method, or the process of helping people deal with critical incident stress. In a SAR context, used to help team members who find a search subject deceased, or if the subject isn’t found at all.

Critical spacing. When a team is searching in a line abreast, that distance between searchers that gives them the desired probability of detection. Depends on terrain, vegetation, weather, lighting, and size of search object. Often figured out using the Northumberland rain dance.


Datum. A datum describes the survey model that was used to match the location of features on the ground to coordinates and locations on a map. In Canada and the United States early topographic maps were based on the North American Datum 1927 (NAD27). More recent topographic maps are based on a North American Datum 1983 (NAD83).

The Global Positioning System uses an earth-centered datum called the World Geodetic System 1984 (WGS84). NAD83 and WGS84 datums are very similar but the variability between NAD27 and NAD83 or WGS84 can be up to 200 metres. Therefore it is critical to know map datums when working between two topographic maps, or a GPS and a topographic map.

Topographic maps will identify which datum was used, and on newer maps the variation between NAD83 and NAD27 is often given. (In cartography, the plural of datum is datums, not data as in other fields.) See also Projection.

Declination. The difference between the magnetic north pole and true north or grid north, normally marked on a map. Because a compass points to magnetic north, the difference must be known for accurate navigation. Adjusting your compass for the declination “equalizes” the orientation between a map (grid north) and the real world (magnetic north) and thus a bearing on a map will equal a bearing on the ground. In the Calgary region, magnetic north is about 16? east of true north. Known as ‘variation’ in the aviation and marine worlds.

Deviation. The difference between the bearing a compass should show and what it does show, due to metals around it. Aircraft compasses will have a card indicating the deviation for each compass. Do not confuse with declination.


ELT. Emergency Locator Transmitter. An aircraft radio that is designed to automatically transmit a radio distress signal on 121.5 MHz in the event of a crash. (Military ELTs transmit on 243.0 MHz, and new ELTs also transmit on 406.025 MHz.) The signals can then be picked up by aircraft and satellites. See also PLB, EPIRB, and SARSAT.

EPIRB. Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon. A radio beacon, carried by boats and ships, that is designed to float and transmit a radio distress signal on 406.025 MHz in the event of an emergency. The signal is coded to identify the transmitter and its current GPS-derived location. The signals can then be picked up by aircraft and satellites. See also PLB, ELT, and SARSAT.


GPS. Global Positioning System. A constellation of satellites owned and operated by the United States military that transmit signals that a receiver can decode to provide a location. Civilian units are generally accurate to about 10 metres. Requires some knowledge of its limitations to use safely.

GRC. Gendarmerie Royale du Canada. The French name for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Humorously defined as “Gravel Road Cops” (see also RCMP and CO).

Grid North. North shown on a topographic map. N-S grid lines are aligned parallel to grid north. See also Magnetic North, True North.

Griffon Bell. 412 helicopter used by the Canadian Forces under the designation CH-146 Griffon. Looks like the famous Huey, but is twin-engined with a 4-blade rotor system. Used on occasion for SAR work.


Hercules. Lockheed CC-130 Hercules medium tactical transport plane used by the Canadian Forces. Four-engined turboprop has long range and can carry lots of equipment. Often used as first response for aeronautical and marine searches.

Hibernia. The Hibernia oil platform is 315 km (170 nautical miles) east of St. John’s, Newfoundland, off the east coast of Canada. Hibernia, and other off-shore platforms, play a vital role in SAR on the east coast by allowing SAR helicopters to refuel at the platforms before flying further out to sea to perform rescues. Some flights have gone as far as 500 km offshore.


ICS. Incident Command System. A method of running an incident, that is scalable and expandable to handle anything from small to large events. Generally used in SAR.

Incident Commander. The person in overall charge of a search. Oversees operations while the search manager deals with the details of the search. Provides the authority to requests for resources. In FSAR searches, the incident commander is usually an RCMP officer, conservation officer, or Calgary police officer.


JRCC. Joint Rescue Coordination Centre. One of three offices in Canada staffed by Canadian Forces and Coast Guard personnel responsible for running aeronautical and marine searches, often with the assistance of civilian volunteer groups. Formerly known as RCCs. Located in Halifax, N.S., Trenton, Ont. and Comox, B.C.


Labrador. Boeing Vertol H-46 Sea Knight helicopter used by the Canadian Forces under the designation CH-113 Labrador. Canada’s primary SAR helicopter for many decades, they have now been replaced by the Cormorant. The Labradors performed over 20,000 rescue missions during their 41-year career, and lost 6 of the original 16 to crashes in active duty. The last mission, a one-way trip to the Canadian Aviation Museum in Ottawa, was flown on 27 July 2004.

Legal Land Description. The township and range system of surveying used in Alberta (and many other areas) for legal land description. Each township is 6 miles by 6 miles, and is sub-divided into thirty-six 1 mile by 1 mile “sections.” Each section is further subdivided into 4 quarter sections or 16 legal subdivisions (LSDs). A complete description is the legal subdivision, section, township, range, meridian. Accurate to 400 metres or 1/4 mile. For example, Bragg Creek’s bridge over the Elbow River is 02-13-023-05 W5M. Important to know because: A) most rural roads in Alberta are Township or Range Roads. B) most farm and range lands are referred to by their section or quarter section numbers. C) all oil- and gas-related structures are marked with their LSD locations.

LKP. Last Known Position. The last confirmed location of a missing aircraft. A search will usually concentrate on the area between the LKP and the aircraft’s destination as filed in the flight plan. Equivalent to ground SAR’s PLS.

LSD. Legal Subdivision. See Legal Land Description.


Mayday. Used for declaring emergencies, the term is said three times. ‘Mayday Mayday Mayday’ signifies ‘grave and imminent danger,’ and comes from the French M’aidez meaning ‘help me.’ Mayday is the voice term, SOS in used in writing or Morse. See also Pan, SOS.

Magnetic North. The direction of North shown by a compass. See also True North, Grid North.


NAD. North American Datum. NAD27 and NAD83 are the two usual datums used for topographic maps in Canada. See “Datum.”

NOK. Next Of Kin.

Northumberland rain dance. Method of figuring out critical spacing. Team puts a surrogate of the search object (e.g., backpack to simulate a person) on the ground in similar terrain to search area. Then members circle around object slowly moving further and further away until they have trouble seeing object. Their distance to the object is then critical spacing for a Type III search, and half the critical spacing for a Type II search.

NSS. National Search and Rescue Secretariat. A Canadian federal agency, NSS is a centre for SAR coordination and promotion in Canada. It coordinates central activities for the federal element of search and rescue, and within the non-federal jurisdiction, the NSS works directly with provincial and territorial search and rescue authorities and police services to develop and standardize the quantity and quality of SAR service available to the provinces and territories. They also publish the quarterly SARScene magazine.

NTS. National Topographic System. The Canadian hierarchic alpha-numeric system for labelling topographic maps.



Pan. Used for declaring emergencies, the term is said three times. ‘Pan Pan Pan’ indicates a crisis that is not life-threatening. See also Mayday, SOS.

PLB. Personal Locator Beacon. A radio that is designed to transmit a distress signal, usually on 121.5 MHz. Can be small enough to be incorporated into a wristwatch, and often carried by hikers and hunters. The signals can then be picked up by aircraft and satellites. See also ELT, EPIRB, and SARSAT.

PLS. Place Last Seen. The location that the missing person was known for certain to have been. Is usually the starting point for a search. Air SAR uses LKP instead.

POA. Probability Of Area. The likelihood that the search object, or clues, are in that particular area.

POD. Probability Of Detection. The chances of finding the search object, given the terrain, critical spacing, weather, searcher fatigue, and resources, if the object is in that search area.

POS. Probability Of Success. The chances of finding the search object, given the POD and POA.

Projection. In cartography, the method of distorting the curved shape of the earth onto the flat surface of a map. Affects how one measures distance and bearings. Canadian topographic maps use Transverse Mercator projection. Lambert Conformal is another commonly used projection. Do not confuse with datum.


RCC. Rescue Coordination Centre. See JRCC.

RCMP. Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The federal police force that is also contracted by most provinces and territories to provide provincial, municipal, and rural policing. Commonly referred to as “Mounties.” Humorously defined as “Regular Coffee, Muffin Please” (see also GRC and CO).


SARSAT. Search And Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking. (COSPAS is the Russian equivalent in the Cyrillic alphabet.) A constellation of low- and high-earth orbit satellites that listen for radio distress signals on 121.5, 243.0, and 406.025 MHz from ELTs, PLBs, and EPIRBs. System allows rapid triangulation to calculate position of beacon to within several kilometres (usually). Founded in 1982 by Canada, USA, France and USSR, now used by many countries. (

SARtech. Search And Rescue technician. Canadian Forces personnel highly trained in medical, extrication, and other SAR techniques. They fly in CF planes and will parajump or hoist down to a scene. Mostly involved in air- and marine SAR, they are usually the first person the search subject sees.

Scale. In cartography, the difference between a distance on the map compared to its representation of the (real) ground. For example, on a 1:50,000 map, one centimetre (or inch, or foot, or metre) on the map represents 50,000 centimetres (or inches, or feet, or metres) on the ground. And 50,000 centimetres is the same as 500 m, so 1 cm on the map is 500 m or 0.5 km on the ground. Small scale maps (e.g., 1:50,000) show smaller areas in greater detail, large scale maps (e.g., 1:1,000,000 scale) show larger areas with less detail.

Search manager or Search master or Search coordinator. The specially trained person in charge of organizing the search and assigning tasks. Makes the decisions on how and where to deploy resourses. FSAR has several search managers. Answers to the Incident Commander. (Ground SAR uses search managers, the Canadian Forces uses search masters, and CASARA uses search coordinators. Training is different for each role.)

Sign. In tracking, sign is any evidence of change from the natural state that is inflicted on an environment by a creature’s passage. E.g., glove, candy wrapper, footprint, string caught in shrub, overturned stone, broken twig, etc.

Sign cutting. In tracking, looking for sign in order to establish a starting point for tracking.

SITREP. Situation Report. Search base will probably want regular reports from search teams as to their progress and status.

SOS. International distress signal. The letters do not stand for anything, such as ‘save our souls,’ they are simply very distinctive and easy to remember in Morse code (? ? ? – – – ? ? ?). Replaced the more awkward CQD (- ? – ? – – ? – – ? ?). In voice communication ‘Mayday’ is used instead. See also Mayday, Pan.

Stokes. A type of stretcher that is designed to hold a patient securely, and protect them, during transport over varied terrain.

STOL. Short TakeOff and Landing. A characteristic of certain aircraft that reduces the need for long runways. Also often includes the ability to land on unprepared surfaces rather than paved runways. Useful for search and rescue in allowing the plane to land nearer a crash site than otherwise possible.


Topographic Map. A systematic representation of a small part of the land surface showing physical features (e.g., relief, hydrography), and cultural features (e.g., roads, administrative boundaries). In Canada topographic maps are created as part of the National Topographic System (NTS).

True North. The geographic north pole, located at 90? N latitude. See also Magnetic North, Grid North.

Twin Otter. De Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter STOL aircraft used by the Canadian Forces under the designation CC-138 Twin Otter. The Canadian Forces now uses the Twin Otter exclusively for search and rescue in the north, due to its ability to land almost anywhere, on wheels, floats, or skis.

Type I search. A hasty search that quickly covers a lot of ground, but with low likelihood of detecting small clues. Useful to cover a lot of ground or to eliminate an area. Examples are trail sweeps or aircraft searches. Usually a skilled clue-aware team or dog team.

Type II search. Slower and more methodical with higher POD than a Type I search. Critical spacing is such that each searcher only sees clearly to 1/2 way to next searcher. Balances between area covered and likelihood of detection.

Type III search. Slowest search, but with highest POD. Team members are spaced such that each one can see to the next searcher, giving complete overlap.


UTM. Universal Transverse Mercator. The grid system used by Foothills SAR for expressing locations. Uses ‘zones’, then numbers for ‘easting’ and ‘northing’. On a search usually abbreviated to a six-digit number, giving location to the nearest 100m square. Most 1:50,000 topographic map have a one-kilometre UTM grid printed on them. An alternative to the better known but harder to use latitude/longitude grid.


Variation. The difference between true north and the magnetic north pole. Because a compass points to magnetic north, the difference must be known for accurate navigation. In the Calgary region, magnetic north is about 16° east of true north. Known as ‘declination’ in the ground SAR world.


WGS. World Geodetic Survey. One of the datums used for maps in Canada. See “Datum.”