History Of The Alaska Search And Rescue Association

The concept of a statewide organization dedicated to facilitating training and interactions between governmental and volunteer civilian Search & Rescue organizations was brought into existence in November of 1992 in Sitka, AK. F/Sgt. Paul Burke, then Statewide S.A.R Coordinator, approached a group of attendees of the Managing the Search Operation course sponsored by Emergency Response, Inc. with his vision.

The idea was considered a good one by the attendees, and the Alaska Search and Rescue Association was created. The original patch was designed and purchased with Public Safety funds and membership applications were distributed. The articles of incorporation were drawn up with the assistance of an Attorney in Anchorage, as were the by-laws, and submitted to the state and federal government to obtain non-profit status. The Association lasted a little over a year, and then became dormant due to a lack of participation and interest within both the volunteer and governmental communities, and subsequently ceased to exist. In mid Oct. of 2004, one of the original attendees of the meeting in Sitka, Lt. Craig Macdonald, who was now the Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) statewide SAR coordinator, stood up at a statewide SAR conference being sponsored by DPS in Girdwood, Alaska.

Macdonald proposed the re-constitution of ASARA and spoke of his beliefs of the importance of a statewide association that would allow the vast knowledge base of volunteer SAR professionals and the Governmental agencies that were involved in SAR to interact, conduct training, and facilitate a more cohesive response to Search and Rescue in the state of Alaska. A majority of the attendees signed a list indicating their interest in this process and Lt. Macdonald began researching and working toward the re-birth of ASARA. Macdonald obtained the original bylaws and articles of incorporation and started the process of bringing the association back online. At the same time Chuck Springer approached Senator Stevens’s office and obtained a $200,000 one time grant for search and rescue. The funds were required to be handled through DPS and used only for volunteer search and rescue training. Together, Lt. Macdonald and Chuck Springer organized the needed paperwork and fiscal tracking process and called a meeting via a statewide teleconference. ASARA was reborn with Chuck Springer elected as the first President under the new bylaws.

Springer ran the organization as President till stepping down in 2007. At that point, Corey Aist accepted the role as President. With the support of the Board of Directors, they began working with the Alaska State Legislature on volunteer SAR related legislation as well as a statewide radio interoperability grant.

The Directors were interested in developing several programs to assist volunteer SAR organizations statewide and in late 2007, ASARA was awarded a Federal PSIC Grant and started a new program referred to as the ASARA Radio Network with over 300 conventional and ALMR radios distributed among ASARA’s 17 member organizations. In 2010, ASARA was awarded a $200,000 / 5 year Alaska state grant for the continued training of search and rescue volunteers. In 2012, ASARA began drafting plans for a statewide Alaska Incident Management Team - Search and Rescue (AIMT-SAR). Under ASARA’s umbrella and at the request of the Alaska State Troopers, a committee began work on operational bylaws and a training program specifically designed for incident team managers. The AIMT-SAR began official operational status in March 2013.

In May 2015, in conjunction with the Alaska State Troopers, ASARA organized a three day multi-operational search and rescue wilderness exercise (AKWISE) in Palmer, Alaska. 

ASARA continues to be a strong advocate for its member organizations and search and rescue volunteers across the state. In 2015, ASARA was awarded a $200,000 / 5 year Alaska state grant for the continued training of search and rescue volunteers. In 2023, ASARA was awarded a $294,300 / 5 year Alaska state grant for the continued training of search and rescue volunteers. With continued funding from the state ASARA will be able to maintain the high training standards of volunteer search and rescue personnel statewide.