Thursday, September 22, 2022

Catastrophic Floods are Challenging Search and Rescue Crews to be Better Prepared

Climate models predict dangerous downpours will continue to grow more frequent and more intense.
Written By
First M. Last

Catastrophic Floods are Challenging Search and Rescue Crews to be Better Prepared


ccording to the 2009 National Climate Assessment, heavy downpours have increased in frequency and intensity during the last 50 years. Current climate models predict dangerous downpours will continue to grow more frequent and intense as greenhouse gas emissions and the planet’s temperature continue to rise.  The average 100-year floodplain is projected to increase 45 percent by 2100, while the annual damages from flooding are predicted to increase by $750 million. Among the types of flooding that will become more frequent are localized floods and riverine floods.  

As these catastrophic floods become more common, it is imperative that Search and Rescue operators have a plan to meet the need. Understanding not only the likelihood of a flood event in your area but also the specific risk areas could be the difference between life and death. As the New York Times recently pointed out in an article on the increasing risk of a generational California “mega flood,” community investment in strengthening levees and dams has counterintuitively led to increased development in flood zones. While people living in these flood zones are somewhat safe from smaller floods, catastrophic floods have the potential to wreck unbelievable damage and loss of life.

In one five-week period this year five different areas of the United States experienced 1000 Year Floods. That is worth saying again. Five different areas experienced floods that have a one in 1000 chance of happening:

  1. Parts of the Dallas-Fort Worth area had up to 16 inches in one day, submerging entire neighborhoods, killing one person, and prompting widespread water rescues.
  1. In Eastern Kentucky, at least 40 people died after heavy rains swelled rivers and devastated 13 counties.
  1. Search and rescue teams in southern Montana airlifted 87 people to safety during historic flooding that hit Yellowstone National Park.
  1. Death Valley experienced its highest rainfall on record, causing massive mudslides and damage to multiple homes and communities.
  1. St. Louis experienced an unheard of 11 inches of rain in under two days, causing widespread flash floods.

What all these events have in common is that when it comes to swift water rescues, seconds matter. Submerged communities and flooded parks mean people are quite literally running out of time. Search and Rescue crews need to move fast, communicate effectively and, when able, utilize technology that enables them to conduct their job with more precision and speed. The challenges SAR crews encounter during swift water operations are enormous. People may be trapped in trees, on houses, or in extreme cases may be caught in a current, effectively becoming a moving target. In these cases, the risk to Search and Rescue Crews and victims increases almost incalculably – especially during hoist operations. Reducing the time spent hovering (while still maintaining operational excellence) is always a preferable outcome, especially in situations where multiple victims struggle to survive. Saving seconds and minutes make all the difference.  

As extreme floods increasingly become an everyday part of life, Search and Rescue must meet the moment. Vita Aerospace and other rescue technology companies are constantly working to provide solutions that bring crews and victims home. Vita’s flagship product, the  Vita Rescue System, is ruggedized, waterproof, and proven to enable SAR crews to conduct hoist rescue operations up to 4x faster – a capability that is simply too important to overlook when planning how to respond to the increased likelihood of a catastrophic flood event in your area.


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