BLM Wyoming, Natrona County Sheriff’s Office collaborate to enhance Search and Rescue capabilities

On an unseasonably warm January day, a BLM Casper Field Office supervisor gets a message through Garmin In-Reach that no manager wants to hear.

Two employees patrolling the Muddy Mountain Environmental Education Area south of Casper are injured in a snowmobiling accident and need immediate help. One of them sends out a message with the Backcountry SOS app before his phone turns off, alerting local first responders to their emergency.

Both messages are tagged “SIMULATED.”

The staff on the mountain that day weren’t hurt, but rather, waiting patiently for rescuers to find them as part of a simulated search and rescue exercise.

People on snow mobiles
BLM Search and Rescue exercise victims snowmobile to their positions.

The BLM High Plains District, in collaboration with the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office (NCSO), designed the mock incident to verify BLM Wyoming’s search and rescue plan with a scenario where two BLM employees encounter unforeseen environmental conditions, leading to a vehicle mishap and subsequent search and rescue deployment. Additionally, the exercise sought to test the interoperability between the BLM and NCSO while providing the search and rescue team an opportunity to practice their skills in a real-life environment.

The Muddy Mountain Environmental Education Area is a popular spot for all-season recreation. In recent years, the area has experienced incidents involving members of the public where NCSO search and rescue were dispatched with BLM serving in an assisting role.

“Our partnerships with county and state agencies are critical to the success of our mission and ensuring the safety of our public and employees alike,” says BLM High Plains District Manager Kevin Christensen.

Having been on neighboring Casper Mountain for training that morning, the search and rescue team responded quickly – hopping into their Hagglunds (a Swedish-made tracked all-terrain vehicle) and heading toward the Backcountry SOS coordinates. High Plains District law enforcement assisted NCSO staff and volunteers to quickly mobilize an incident command structure to conduct the search and rescue.

Group standing together
NCSO search and rescue team poses for a photo alongside BLM law enforcement officers.

The exercise successfully concluded with the expedient location and rescue of the two BLM role players, validating the exercise objectives, and strengthening the relationship between the BLM and Natrona County.

“This exercise confirmed that we are prepared to respond to a situation where either a member of the public or BLM staff needs assistance, regardless of the season or weather conditions,” concludes Christensen.

The BLM High Plains District plans to conduct similar exercises in the near future with county partners in its Buffalo and Newcastle field offices.

Tyson Finnicum, Public Affairs Specialist

Blog Topic: