National Search and Rescue Plan

National Search and Rescue Plan

The National Search and Rescue Plan or National SAR Plan[1] is a policy document of the Federal government of the United States that establishes the responsibilities for search and rescue within the United States.

The National SAR Plan designates the United States Coast Guard (USCG) as the federal agency responsible for maritime SAR operations and the United States Air Force (USAF) as the federal agency responsible for inland SAR. Both agencies maintain rescue coordination centers (RCCs) to coordinate this effort, and have responsibility for both military and civilian search and rescue. Both agencies also cooperatively operate joint rescue coordination centers (JRCCs) where appropriate.

RCCs and JRCCs receive Cospas-Sarsat distress alerts sent by the United States Mission Control Center (USMCC) in Suitland, Maryland and are responsible for coordinating the rescue response to the distress. Each service takes a slightly different approach to SAR operations.


Inland SAR

The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC) at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, coordinates all inland SAR activities in the continental U.S., but does not directly prosecute SAR cases. In most situations, the actual search and rescue is carried out by the Civil Air Patrol, state police or local rescue services.

For Alaskan inland areas, the Air National Guard operates the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center (AKRCC) at Elmendorf AFB, Anchorage. Alaskan SAR is carried out by Air National Guard units, the Alaska State Troopers and local borough search and rescue organizations. Effective Oct 1, the Alaska RCC has been credited with saving 1,668 lives during 4,444 missions and assiststing 701 others to safety.

Maritime SAR

The U.S. Coast Guard not only coordinates, but usually conducts maritime SAR missions.

The U.S. Coast Guard utilizes the Search and Rescue Optimal Planning System (SAROPS) to most accurately model leeway divergence for many search and rescue objects as well as optimize planned search areas.

Coast Guard RCCs are set up to cover specific geographic areas and act as command and coordination centers. The geographic areas of responsibility are divided among nine Coast Guard District commands and two Rescue Sub-Centers (RSC).



The Department of Defense’s U.S. Southern Command runs an active Search and Rescue Center out of Key West, FL that helps to coordinate a significant amount of COSPAS-SARSAT activity in Central & South America.


  1. ^ National Search and Rescue Plan (USA) 2007

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