Olympic National Park has draft search and rescue plan, chief says

OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK — Acting Superintendent Lee Taylor said last week that Olympic National Park has a draft plan it uses to guide search and rescue operations after having sent written notice previously that the park has no plan. 

Taylor, who was recently named acting superintendent, provided the Peninsula Daily News with the plan on Thursday, eight days after saying ONP “does not have park specific written guidelines or policy related to mission persons,” in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Taylor said Thursday she had reviewed the response before signing it.

“I wasn’t aware of the existence of the draft plan when I signed the request,” she said. She said she was not involved with the FOIA process.

She said that while park superintendents are mandated under National Park Service policy to approve a park search and rescue (SAR) plan, due to limited staff, the park has made day-to-day operations a priority and hasn’t finalized the draft plan, created in 2013.

The 922,650-acre park now has 12 law enforcement rangers compared to the 36 rangers it had in 2013, she said.

“What do you do if you have limited staff, resources and 3 million visitors a year?” she said.

“We focused on what is important. That was not getting a written plan completed but actually conducting operations.”

She said the absence of a final, signed plan does not mean the park doesn’t have a robust SAR program.

She said the park invested $25,000 in gear upgrades, which allows the park to work directly and more seamlessly with Olympic Mountain Rescue and other partners.

Olympic National Park has a “level 3” SAR program, meaning the park regularly experiences SAR incidents and that SAR services are immediately available, according to the National Park Service Search and Rescue Reference Manual.

There are four levels, with Level 4 being the highest.

The park responded to 279 SAR incidents from 2012-16, Taylor.

In those five years, four people were never found and nine died, she said.

The park’s 67-page draft SAR plan does not say when to contact news media or the public about a SAR incident or missing person but says public information and media releases will be directed through the incident public information officer.

The park discourages friends, relatives and by-standers from direct participation in an emergency incident because they may lack training, have emotional involvement and create a liability for the government, the plan says.

The plan outlines what to do for wilderness search and rescue, which begins when a ranger first receives a report.

The initial search includes investigation, confinement, containment and hasty searches, in that order, according to the plan.

The plan does not offer what to do day-by-day when searching for a missing person. The level of response depends on a person’s age, medical condition, the weather and their experience in the outdoors, among other things.

Rangers should complete a missing person initial report and a search urgency rating, which is used to decide the scale of the response.

“Park rangers are dedicated public servants who strive every day to provide for the safety of our visitors, protect park resources and respond in case of emergency,” Taylor said.

Parks are required to maintain records in all cases where emergency service is provided by SAR personnel, the National Park Service Search and Rescue Reference Manual says.

It specifies the length of time that some types of records must be kept. Major visitor accidents resulting in death or tort claims remain permanently on file, minor accidents must be retained for two years, accidents resulting in government property damage must be retained for six years and employee accidents must be retained for six years.


Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.

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