Officials in Orange County, California, say they recorded a significant increase in search and rescues throughout the pandemic.
The Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) have been working to address the rise in search and rescues during the past year.
“We basically work together … to ensure that the citizens and the community here in Orange County gets the appropriate response and really to mitigate any hazards that arise,” OCFA Captain Greg Barta told The Epoch Times regarding OCFA’s relationship with OCSD. “They’re a great resource for us to search for people as an avenue of helping us, but the rescue responsibilities—we kind of rotate who’s doing that.”
OCFA’s search and rescues almost always involve a helicopter, while OCSD’s rescue units utilize both helicopters and on-foot rescue personnel. The two agencies utilize separate helicopters to maintain coverage of the county, should multiple requests come in.
OCFA reported 217 helicopter rescues in 2019—but in 2020, that number jumped to 350. So far in 2021, from Jan. 1 to Aug. 3, there have been 156 helicopter rescues by the OCFA.
Meanwhile, the OCSD’s reserve bureau participated in 29 ground search-and-rescue missions in 2019, coupled with 71 air-support operations.
The number once again jumped in 2020, with the sheriff’s department recording 41 ground rescues and 123 air-support search and rescues.
OCSD seems on track to see a substantial increase in 2021, as there have been 31 rescues this year to Aug. 3. The department didn’t have air-support search and rescue data available to date for 2021.
“There’s obviously been a jump in the last couple of years,” OCSD Sgt. Todd Hylton told The Epoch Times.
Hylton said the figures might have been much higher had it not been for preventative search-and-rescue (PSR) measures.
Such efforts include sending reserve officers out on the trails and “handing out waters to people hiking and ensuring that people have the right equipment,” Hylton said.
“There was a significant increase over the last several years, but I really think that preventative search-and-rescue aspect that our guys really participated in has actually brought the number lower than it potentially could have been.”
Hylton said these preventative measures are not something new, but there have been additional PSR campaigns throughout the last year because of the noticeable increase in hikers.
“Since the pandemic, we’ve done more [PSRs] … this summer and the summer before,” Hylton said.
Barta said the CCP virus pandemic caused a rise in search and rescues due to a lack of preparation from hikers who “haven’t taken the necessary precautions or truly evaluated their fitness levels accurately, and they get themselves into a bit of trouble.”
Hylton said: “As more people go out, you have people that are less prepared than others that may not be as knowledgeable for techniques and what they need to bring, so that’s going to obviously increase the number of potential rescues that come out. Thankfully, within the county we have our support—Orange County Fire—working together, and it’s actually been a good relationship, being able to work together, two agencies working together for the betterment of the population.”