Overview of Alpha Search and Recovery News. Check out what the team has been up to!
June 20, 2017
This year marks Alpha SAR's 5th anniversary! On June 17th, Fetching Lab Brewery was kind enough to host a party and fundraiser event for the team. We focused all donations towards a command trailer. Between the amazing donations from our supporters at the Fetching Lab Event and outside donations, we have raised enough money to begin the purchasing phase. We couldn't have done it without the kindness from Fetching Lab. Not only did they host and put on the event, but they donated $1 from every beer sold to our cause.
We raised over $2,000 at the fundraiser!Did you miss the party and fundraiser? Don't worry, Fetching Lab Brewery donates a portion of all sales of their Fetcher in the Rye brew year around to Alpha SAR. So get out there and drink some beer! Be sure to stop by Fetching Lab Brewery, and tell them Alpha SAR sent you! more
May 17, 2017
One weekend per year, local high school teams gather together for a final exam of sorts. They have spent the majority of the school year analyzing, designing, and building large scale rockets and this is their only shot to see if it works. It’s launch day!
This year, Systems Go hosted one of the many 3-day launch event on May 12-14 in Anahuac, Texas. Student teams came in from all over the greater Houston area, made final preparations on their rockets, and carried them to the launch pads. The goals vary from carrying one pound of payload one mile up in the air, to the more advanced teams that are attempting to break the sound barrier!
Adrenaline and excitement are thick in the air as the countdowns begin. Some teams are met with beautiful launches, parachute deployments, and celebration, while others a left with a little more of fiery explosion of disappointment. Regardless of the outcome, the goal is learning. The only way to know if your project was a success is to recover the vehicle to analyze the data that got recorded on-board. Even if the launch didn’t go as planned, recovery of the vehicle remnants is critical for the students to learn what caused the failure so it can be prevented in the future.
Alpha SAR supports Systems Go at these yearly launch events to use our specialized training and technology to ensure we recover as many of these student projects as possible. We’re proud to say that out of the 30+ launches this year, there was only a single one that was not recovered. Let’s just say everyone involved had a blast!
Author: Nick Blackman
Photos: Smugmug RocketsGOmore
August 4, 2016more
August 4, 2016Sugar Land Veterinary Specialists (SLVS) for our first Canine Field First Aid Class, presented by several SLVS technicians. We spent the morning learning about how to handle basic splinting, canine restraint, snake bite safety, and heat stress injuries out in the field. This class taught our team what to watch for in our canines when working, and what to do if we suspect a problem. Once field first aid is given, our canines can be safely transported to a veterinarian. Our goal in this class was to teach our team how to handle specific situations safely so that if we are a great distance from a veterinary facility we can assess the situation and begin to stabilize the pet for transport to a facility that can provide the proper treatment. The very knowledgeable technicians from SLVS volunteered to spend their Saturday teaching us and walking us through all kinds of things and assisting us in hands-on practice. Each team member was able to practice safely restraining a canine to prepare for a situation in the field where we may need to restrain a pet for a health check or for medical care to be given. This kind of knowledge will not only prevent harm from coming to the canine, but also the team members helping give medical care to the canine. Our very own Watson was a trooper in allowing the entire class to practice restraining him for care. We were able to learn how to properly place a quick splint or bandage a canine's leg. This will be important if our canine is injured in the field with either a broken bone or laceration. Our model for this was Monster, one of the technician's dogs, who was patient enough to get bandaged multiple times. Then we learned how to use a SAM Splint on one of our own team dogs, Watson. He was a good sport as well. Then everyone practiced making and placing a muzzle on our team mascot, Phoenix, and Rocket. This is important since even the most docile and loving dog can get upset and snappy when in pain. If we are out in the woods and our canine hurts his paw, our team is now able to asses the situation confidently, place a "quick field muzzle," safely restrain, and apply a simple bandage so that we can safely return to base and then seek medical attention from a veterinarian. We are delighted to be able to work with the wonderful people at Sugar Land Veterinary Specialists, and look forward to our next training. more
April 2, 2016
Unique AreasThe annex allowed training opportunities for a variety of unique areas. On site, there is an unused and abandoned neighborhood that allowed the canines to practice the obstacles that come from urban locations, without the difficulty of sorting through high scent contamination or being concerned with traffic. We were able to utilize this area for both human remains detection, HRD, area search and trailing. Since this unique opportunity does not happen very often there was a large amount of time spent here.
Trailing CaninesThe trailing dogs utilized both the wooded areas and the abandoned neighborhood, but mostly stayed in the abandoned neighborhood. Some of the squadron members were used to hide from the search dogs and many chose to use some basic evasion tactics from the dogs, climbing up trees and rooftops and going over the tops of the buildings. Some of the trails left by the squadron members were setup to challenge both the teams and the handlers, while others were set up to teach and train the newer dogs.
Human Remains Detection CaninesAcross the facility, the human remains detection canines were working in a wooded area and urban simulator. Both of these provided their own unique challenges. The wooded area was a great representation of most of the cadaver searches our team goes on. It also had the advantage of being wild woods with little to no human interaction and no risk of hunters in the area (boar hunting is year round in Texas). With the cleared woods, many scenarios were setup including large area searches, water searches, and debris searches. The urban simulator also posed some interesting challenges with broken glass, abandoned buildings, and lots of debris and equipment to search through.
Working TogetherPutting aside the perfect areas for our canines to practice challenges, we were lucky enough to work with the 66th Squadron. This partnership was widely beneficial to both civilian canine teams and their military counterparts. The canines were able to search for people they have never met before, and allowing a simulation for something closer to a real search scenario. The military personnel benefited from learning the new asset of working with these talented canines and their handlers, and we were able to have unique training challenges. The events of the weekend were enjoyed by the 33 volunteers, and the nearly 20 canine handler teams. We look forward to working with all the wonderful volunteers and military personnel again in the future. The Lackland AF Base Joint SAR Training experience was a great one and the team and squadron are hoping to continue the tradition and train together in the future. Here is the link to the news article about Alpha Search and Recovery's training at the base. http://www.jbsa.mil/News/News/tabid/11890/Article/737615/aetcs-66th-trs-teams-with-canine-search-rescue-organizations.aspx more
May 17, 2015Have you ever seen the movie October Sky? I must have seen it a dozen times growing up. Every time I watched I was inspired to do something great. I always found it amazing that high school kids could do something as grand as build a fully functioning rocket. I never dreamed that this was actually happening at high schools across Texas. Boy was I in for a surprise! Last year in 2014 a man named Brett Williams invited Alpha Search and Recovery to Lake Jackson to help support SystemsGo in their rocket recovery efforts. I had no idea just what this meant. I envisioned high school kids creating those little rockets that you see on the internet in videos. The reality was so much more amazing. Upon arrival I was quickly dispelled of this notion. These kids were building real rockets. Not the little fun sized ones you can buy in a kit online. They were building transonic rockets (i.e. rockets that approach the speed of sound). These high school kids were building rockets that I had only ever seen in movies or on TV. Kids, kids were doing this! After realizing that we were in for a fun weekend Alpha SAR jumped right in and enjoyed a successful weekend of recovering rockets in 2014. Our team had a great experience implementing search techniques and skills in a real world situation. Let’s jump forward to May 2015. Mr. Williams was so impressed with our search techniques that he invited us out again this year to help. This time however he wanted us to see their big show in Fredericksburg, Texas. A few of us were free and more than willing to help out. Alpha SAR spent two amazing weekends watching high school kids launch rockets….and helping to recover them while practicing our SAR skills. You may wonder what rocket recovery has to do with search and rescue, but it was a great exercise to practice SAR skills for new members, as well as our experienced team. Team members were each given a map with a location to go for spotting and GPS coordinates. Members had to practice navigating in the field to that location and then communicate on the radio their actual coordinates back to the Incident Command (IC). The members then waited until a rocket launched, then using their compass they shot a bearing where they saw the rocket land and had to report into IC the rocket's location. The team members in the Incident Command Post (ICP) then took each position/azimuth and triangulated the location of the rocket. The closest team was then radioed with the approximate coordinates of the rocket to be recovered. The team then had to navigate using GPS and maps around various water and land obstacles and search the area surrounding the triangulated location for the rocket. Many skills were used and the newest team members learned a lot in the field, especially about using clear radio communication and basic navigation with both maps and compasses and GPS units.
In Lake Jackson, Alpha SAR implemented a new mapping system and software to simplify and improve the recovery efforts. One of the SystemsGo members coined the phrase, “Bringing rocket recovery into the 21st Century.” By utilizing a free online mapping application called SARTopo, we found that we could triangulate the rockets landing locations much more accurately than just using maps. Occasionally, the computer was not necessary. As you can imagine shooting off rockets isn’t always a walk in the park. There are always those rockets that just don’t do what you expect. We had a few close calls. Sometimes the rockets would go ballistic, when their parachutes did not deploy, and would come down hard and fast. A few of our team members had that heart racing experience of watching, and hearing, a rocket or two come down very close to their location. I cannot tell you how terrifying and at the same time thrilling this can be. Just imagine hearing the whistling of a small plane falling out of the sky directly next to you, but never actually seeing the vehicle. Only the thud of impact allows you to breathe regularly again. Or maybe you do see the rocket coming back ballistic and from your vantage point it may just land directly on top of you. Thankfully, this is rarely the case, but it adds to the excitement of the experience. It also makes the vehicle easy to find if not necessarily easy to get to. Our Alpha SAR members had the opportunity experience different search terrains and conditions in the effort to retrieve the rockets.The next weekend a few of us drove out to Fredericksburg. We got to see firsthand just how massive this educational program is. There were schools from all over Texas. These kids work harder than you can imagine to design, test, redesign, retest and finally launch their final product. This program is not your regular afterschool club. SystemsGo is an actual high school curriculum that these kids learn and grow with for their last 2 years of high school. They aren’t just throwing together some parts and launching it into the sky. These kids get to experience the theory and principles behind the design of a rocket and they get to apply these principles to the real world by building the system they design. Their final launch is a part of their grade in the program. They have a lot riding on this final. So you can imagine just how important it is to recover their projects. By implementing our mapping software and our search techniques we are helping these kids to complete their program of study.
Posted by Alpha Search And Recovery on Saturday, May 16, 2015
January 24, 2015. On Saturday January 24, 2015 fourteen members of Alpha SAR were given the opportunity to train at the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Training Field with members of the Spring Fire Department and Harris County Arson Investigator/K9 teams. The training for Alpha SAR included Human Remains Detection (HRD), Area Search, and Trailing scenarios. This is in addition to live burn training for the firefighters and accelerant detection for the Arson Investigator/K9 teams. The training field was a vast and dynamic place for our teams to experience different scenarios involving sheds and vehicles, such as buses, 18 wheelers, and burned out cars. Search Scenarios: The Alpha SAR HRD handler/K9 teams were introduced to the new experience of working a burn scenario. Alpha SAR was allowed to place samples in the live burn scenario containers prior to the burns. This gave our HRD teams the opportunity to try something new, samples exposed to the destructive forces of a fire. Additionally, the teams worked in more customary scenarios involving buildings, raised and surface samples, and vehicle search. This was a unique and interesting experience for our K9s and handlers. For our Alpha SAR live find handler/K9 teams, the Spring Fire Department was very happy to volunteer in hiding from our K9s. The trailing teams enjoyed the experience of discovering the hidden firefighters in different scenarios including cross trails, distraction trails, open fields, heavy contamination starts and high finds. The area handler/K9 teams also utilized the available firefighter volunteers to practice their field search prowess including finding their subjects in abandoned vehicles. One particularly willing and enthusiastic firefighter hid from our K9s in a raised crate located in storage shed for over an hour. His patience and creative location was a challenging and great experience for our Area and Trailing teams. Future Endeavors: After spending the day watching the skill and speed with which the Spring Fire Department firefighters work, our team is excited to schedule more dual trainings in the future. There was talk of adding a rubble pile to their training field to allow the inclusion of disaster search scenarios in our future trainings together. Working with the Arson Investigator/K9 teams and being allowed to see how efficiently and effectively they work was an intriguing adventure. Who knew that you could train a K9 to pin point one drop of any accelerant in any situation? We cannot thank the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office enough for allowing us access to their training field and the opportunity to witness the arson investigator/K9 teams in action. It was a great adventure having Alpha SAR at the Fire Marshal Training Center. Our team hopes that the useful and interesting encounter is the beginning of a cooperative and collaborative association with the Harris County Fire Marshal’s in future endeavors.more
January 1, 2015North American Search Dog Network Spring Seminar in March, hosted the Fundamentals of Search and Rescue (FUNSAR) in April, hosted the Alpha SAR Fall Seminar in September, and co-hosted a National Association of Search and Rescue (NASAR) SAR Technician II examination in November. 2014 in review was a busy year and 2015 is already scheduled to be busier. To put things into perspective using Texas’ estimated value of a volunteer ($23.40/hour), the hours provided by Alpha SAR equated to $164,781.80. Our dedicated team members provided these hours, along with associated equipment costs, with the sole purpose of training ourselves to find missing persons. Alpha SAR would like to congratulate all team members that achieved a level in 2014. Alpha SAR utilizes a typing scheme that aligns with the National Incident Management System (NIMS), with Level IV as the basic level through Level I as the highest typing level. In 2014, Alpha SAR welcomed the following team members.