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How to properly assess an emergency situation before Search and Rescue Operations

How to Properly Assess an Emergency Situation Before Search and Rescue Operations

The most important person in a search and rescue operation is you, the rescuer. If you get hurt, injured or killed, others will need to rescue the other injured individual and yourself. To better protect the rescuer and those with whom they are saving, professionals have put together a list of 9 steps to effectively assess the situation and best prepare the rescue operation for the safety of all involved.

To assess or “size up” a situation is to gather information about the environment around the rescue operation to be able to make better decisions about how to safely and effectively attempt a rescue and how to best proceed.

According to the CERT classroom training, the nine steps to the basic Size-Up process are:

Step 1: Gather facts
Step 2: Assess and communicate damage
Step 3: Consider probabilities
Step 4: Assess your situation
Step 5: Establish priorities
Step 6: Make decisions
Step 7: Develop action plans
Step 8: Take action
Step 9: Evaluate progress


You may also be interested in our other articles titled “Overview of the Community Emergency Response Team Program- CERT” or “The Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT).”  Additionally, we have many other articles relating to the CERT program on our website.

Step 1: Gather Facts

When gathering/assessing facts about the rescue operation, ask yourself the following questions:

1- When did the event take place (which day and time of day)? By knowing this information, you’ll be able to provide better medical care when they are finally rescued.

2- What is the location of the incident or the type of structure involved? This will help you determine the proper rescue equipment you’ll need to effectively carry out the rescue operation.

3- What is the current and forecasted weather? Again the safety of rescue personnel is paramount and the weather can make hinder your plan.

4- What other hazards are there to consider in the area when conducting the rescue operation such as live wires, structure collapsing, high water levels, etc.?


Step 2: Assess and Communicate Damage

The success of the rescue operation is only as good as the most accurate information communicated. Damage or hazards that may affect those who are conducting the rescue operation need to carefully explained.

Often, the damage may be classified by the following:

– Light
– Moderate
– Heavy

Because this is such a crucial part in sizing up the situation, you will learn more in depths on the proper methods of assessing damage and how to communicate that information to the lead rescuer best.


Step 3: Consider Probabilities

To properly size up or assess the situation for the safety of all involved, you need to consider things what will or could happen during the rescue operation. Try asking yourself the following questions:

1- How stable is the environment or structure? Could the building collapse?

2- How could the rescue operation go wrong?

3- If a problem were to occur, how would it affect the rescue operation and what should be done if it occurred?

Step 4: Assess Your Situation

Based on the information you have gathered up to this point, is it safe for you or others to continue with the search operation? Should you wait for different safety equipment to arrive before continuing? Do you have the proper training to proceed with the rescue operation? How likely are there to be complications to the rescue operation?

It’s at this point that you need to decide if the operation is a go or if you need to wait. If the rescue operation is a ‘GO,’ move onto step 5.


Step 5 & 6: Establish priorities

Step 5 is the decision-making step. Prioritize your resources that will do the most good while ensuring the safety of all rescue members as well as the person with whom you are tasked to rescue. Follow the steps outlined below:

1-    Remove or minimize all known hazards

2-    Form teams (Buddy System) for the rescue operations

3-    Establish a communication channel


Step 7: Develop Action Plans – The Real Decisions Starts Now

The lead rescuer will determine how to proceed with the rescue operation. What and where resources or personnel are deployed to and the tasks/goals assigned for each step of the rescue operation.

Depending on the complexity of the search and rescue operation, a written plan may be helpful for other personnel or agencies that join in on the rescue efforts.

Step 8 & 9: Take Action and Evaluate Progress

When a plan has been established, all rescue personnel need to follow the plan accordingly to ensure the safety of all involved. Do not deviate from the action plan without communicating with the lead rescuer and other team members who are involved in the rescue operation.

Throughout the rescue operation, it is essential to continue to apply the “Sizeup” protocol. Each new room, building or area can pose a new unforeseen threat to yourself and others who are involved in the rescue operation.

If you identify a new threat or potential threat, report it immediately through the proper communication channels.


Search and rescue is a very noble act. Caring enough for strangers and putting your life on the line to help others truly separates the “men from the boys”. However, it is imperative that you think before you act and follow the steps of “Sizing Up” the situation before responding.

If you follow the steps outlined above, you will be much more effective and safer while helping those who are in need.