Search and Rescue & Tourist Crisis Management

Symposium on Friday 13, 2012

Search and Rescue & Tourist Crisis Management

Prepared by Santa Subba, President HRA

Views on rescue, crisis and disaster management

By definition it means to save from dangerous, difficult or harmful situation (oxford). NTB booklet ‘Just In Case’ also has definition of crisis. Before going further it would be appropriate to recapitulate about our last meeting held on Jan 2012 on the subject:

TAAN Rep Ram Neupane: He argued to form authorized national body that includes representatives of as many organizations as possible. Ultimately state is responsible for execution, and authorized organization recognized by the government is necessary.

NNMGA representative Pemba Geljen Sherpa: Nation must give feeling of safety and security to the tourists (visitors). In crisis situation coordination of government body and non government organization is required. Rescue requires dedication to save human lives.

HRA Rescue Committee Member Capt NB Gurung: Nation should build financial support so, HRA should source out financial and human resource before making rules and SOP.

NARA President Megh Ale: National level body should define area of its activities - mountain, river, disaster, climbing, etc.

Tourists Crisis and Rescue Missions in the past:

At present several non government organizations has their own rescue cells including Himalayan Rescue Association. Looking back in the past, without mentioning several big accidents that happened in the mountain, one can conclude that in most of the cases the rescue effort is made in the last minute by scrambling organizations related to mountaineering like NMA, TAAN and HRA. HRA played a lead role to  source out and handle as a member of national level rescue efforts in big disaster in Gokyo, Kanchanjunga and Manang  in November 1995. NMA played key role when helicopter disaster happened in Gunsa in 1998. However when rescue are required in Lukla airports when more than 200 hundred passengers (tourists) got stranded for several days all organizations including helicopter companies, trekking agencies and airlines scrambled to get piece of actions on individual basis. TAAN effort was in vain in November 2010 when the service is required at critical time. Though HRA service was sought by foreigners it could hardly leverage anything meaningful to help get the stranded passengers. The effort of the government was equally pathetic including the role of Civil Aviation and local Lukla authority. Response to rescue work has been carried out in uncoordinated method as if we are competing for the same purpose.

Many individual accidents and missing cases are handled by agencies and embassies individually on personal capacity. There are no proper records or statistics.

In case of HRA we have been handling such cases when requested. We have handled several major  mountain rescue work including search and rescue of Israelis from the accident that happened in Annapurna Base camp in 1997 and French nationals at Mita when snow avalance swept all the members and staffs on their mission to climb Mt. kangaroo Himal in October 2005. HRA also formed a high level rescue team to search and rescue  a liaision officer who on his way from Annapurna I base camp to Pokhara got lost enroute. All these work on search and rescue (SAR) were handled when HRA was requested for assistance.

Nature of rescue in crisis:

Method rescue is defined by nature of crisis. So, first crisis has to be defined and figured out which in general can be distinguished by dimension of the rescue required.

1.      Crisis arises due to political strikes – problem of transportation to and from airport

2.      Tourists stranded at remote airport for several days because of flight cancellation due to bad weather

3.      Each tourist hub has its own unique local crisis – Pokhara, Chitwan, Bhairawa (Lumbini), Thamel and rafting has its own type of problems

4.      Rescue in the mountain at the elevation between 5000 to 6000 meter in Everest at Camp II,

5.      High altitude accident above 6000 meter.

6.      Crisis due to natural calamities broadly defined as disaster like earth quack.

7.      Rafting accident due to boat overturned in the white water.

8.      Trekkers lost in the mountain.

9.      Trekkers trapped in the high mountain due to snow avalanche or accident.

10.  Accidents in the Chitwan Jungle etc.

11.  Helicopter accidents like in Gunhsa

Note: NTB booklet ‘Just in Case’ has categorized type of crisis (Page 3)

Rescue in the mountain:

The rescue team after getting into the spot in the high Himalaya requires proper acclimatization in high altitude before they can undertake the rescue task. That adds at least an extra day when the person in danger zone needs immediate action. Hence any rescue attempt end up with finding out just the information of the possible events that must have happened and some of the personal effects of the climbers. In case of accident that happens due to snow avalanche all the evidence are also swept away; the rescue team just have to work on the few credible information they have.

Often rescue teams are brought from abroad from their home country especially in case of high profile cases. By the time they are brought here and goes to the accident spot it is always too late. And the expense is just too huge. In other word this is just useless except to express solidarity and human concern for the relatives of the victims of the accidents.

Helicopter is very important element in the rescue effort. History of the rescue from 7000 meter in Mt. Everest shows it is very difficult task even if there are helicopters capable to fly and pick up person from high altitude spot.

Rescue organization has its limit due to human factor; similarly machine also has its own limitation. It is not enough sometime just to get the person out of the mountain. The person would need emergency medical aid and support.  If the rescue helicopter has to be equipped with modern emergency medical facility it become impossible to fly high above 6000 meter  as the oxygen level becomes thinner and up thrust of the helicopter provided by its rottar is not enough.

Equipment Constraints: The availability of helicopters available in Kathmandu, big and small, is limited. The stark reality is that we lack dedicated instruments required for the purpose. There is no guarantee of the availability of the helicopters as the operators have their own business commitment. The military support is also not very reliable. They have just two helicopters that are capable to go above 6000 meter on top of that they have their own work to take care.

The only persons who can help in the dire situation are the trained mountaineers and climbers who need training in rescue. In all the rescue cases in the Himalayan mountains when immediate help is required the accompanying climbing Sherpa and climbing guides are the one who provide the service. But for solo climbers the delay in rescue becomes fatal. So, trained men power in mountain rescue is required. 

In the rescue the knowledge of high altitude medical problem above 6000 meter is essential to treat hypothermia and high altitude sickness etc. Many tourist and climbers do not know if corporal medical treatment is available in Kathmandu. Most have preconceived idea that if any medical problem happens they go straight home for medical attention. If they know availability of modern medical facilities in Kathmandu for immediate treatment and diagnosis the climbers could return back to the mountain without having to abandon the hard work that the persons had put in it If the injury or sickness is not life threatening.


Home Ministry takes care of situation caused by natural disaster when public property and lives are in danger. In local level CDO offices are focal points for coordination. But it is the responsibility of Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation when lives of tourists are in danger and in distress weather the cause is natural or men made.

National Level Crisis and Disaster Management Committee

‘Tourism Crisis Coordination Committee’ under the chairmanship of the Minister of Tourism was formed to resolve tourism related crisis. It is an apex body consisting of representatives of all the major government ministries. CEO of the NTB is member secretary. NTB has been given primary responsibility.

Under NTB and its CEO a ‘Tourism Crisis Response Action Unit’ has been formed consisting of all major stake holders of non government tourism organizations and representatives of army and police. The membersecretary of this Action Unit is the director of PR & Publicity of NTB. Currently Mr. Aditya Baral heads this unit. (see page 4 & 5 of ‘Just In Case’ booklet)

To complete the action plan of this ‘Action Unit’ NTB in conjunction with HRA have formed local level action units at various tourists’ hubs except in Kathmandu. In Kathmandu we held several interaction meetings with tourism related organizations to figure out our problems.

The legal and vested authority for appropriate response is NTB yet the unit formed under it is still in the process of organizing response units. Therefore the purpose of this seminar is to bring awareness of the present situation and define crisis as per its nature and assign responsibility to coordinate human and financial resource to an organization so when situation demand the specified unit jump start to respond  and manage the crisis in the best possible way.

NTB & HRA Tourist Crisis Cell (TCC)

Tourists Crisis Cell has taken responsibility to take care when tourists are in crisis: TCC is primarily a working unit/cell. It is working at local level with the representatives of local tourism entrepreneurs at major tourists’ hub. The cell includes representatives from Home Ministry like CDO, security personnel’s like SP/ DSP and army personnel like high ranking officer, and representative of stake holders of various tourism entrepreneurs. NTB coordinates the cells in each location and provide logistical support to the committees. At present committees are formed in Chitwan, Bhairawa, Pokhara, and Kakarbhitta.  There are plan to set up in Lukla and other emerging tourists hubs.  These cells formed at local levels are given responsibilities to handle crisis that happens at its level with active support of Tourists Crisis Cell / NTB.

Tourists Crisis Response Unit:

To tackle day to day situation NTB and HRA has a Tourist Crisis cell with a dedicated phone number 4442555 and 9751044088 to respond to any crisis that may occur. Most organizations are unaware of this except when there is strike people (tourist or non tourists) call this number to know about vehicle movement to and from the airport.

National Crisis and Disaster Management Responsibility:

Search & Rescue (SAR) always involve immediate action and rapid mobilization of rescue team. To support National Crisis Management I would like to make following proposal:

1.      Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA) has to be entrusted the responsibility to coordinate crisis management and rescue plan. 

2.      For quick response and action HRA head office should be considered Response Center.  Though there are 20 members in ‘Action Unit’ for quick response a core unit be formed to include  representative of HRA as coordinator and NTB (TCC), NMA, TAAN, NNMGA, HAN, NATTA, NATO and AOAN as members. It should be given final authority to prepare crisis management and rescue plan.

3.      Depending upon the situation some or all the members of the Action Units would be called for Emergency Meeting to tackle the emerging situation.

4.      HRA to manage emergency call center, and a plate form for concerted action.

5.      In the Action Units, beside the tourism stake holders, a representative of the department of meteorology should be included.  Weather forecast has always been main factor in the rescue and response effort.

6.      The crisis management administration known as ‘Action Unit’ ought to be activated when there is impending crisis and disaster because of unpredictable weather, natural calamities or men made crisis. This unit prepares SOP (Standard operating Procedure) to handle local level problems as well as high level crisis or disaster.

7.      Regular working budget as well as provision for financial backup to support crisis and disaster management should be provided by NTB, TAAN and NMA from their resource they obtained from tourists.

8.      The Response Unit must be given full authority to handle the crisis.

9.      Press release to foreign and local press should be left to Media Center of NTB so as there are no conflicting news. NTB should be the authority to issue ‘Travel Advisory’ so tourists, tourism entrepreneurs and all tourism associations follow the news from NTB as authentic instead of news originated at various points.

10.  Meeting of Response Unit be held at every quarter and Action Unit at least once a year to review and form policy.


1.      'Just In Case’ manual prepared and printed by NTB has all the information of who to contact and their phone number when crisis happens. The manual should also have instruction to tourist what to do when band (lightening strike) are called. The manual has telephone number of embassies and consulates in case if they need to be connected immediately. This information has been distributed to all tourism related organizations.

2.      The national level apex body has not given due priority to the cause as it is not being pressed by non government tourism organizations to set aside regular fund and gear financial resource including equipment like helicopters and vehicles to be used when crisis demand.  Tourism Secretary, CEO of NTB and the Tourism Minister MUST give top priority to prepare its action units as a quick response team.

3.      Role of HRA is to support NTB, as a national tourist organization, in its’ responsibility to manage tourists in crises by bringing together non government organizations involved in tourism. To effectively manage tourism crisis NTB and HRA have agreed to work together on June 26, 2010.

4.      The radio program dedicated to tourism that I have proposed in HRA Annual Plan 2068-2069 would be a strong tool and medium for communication specially in the dire condition to keep tourist as well as local representatives aware of the current situation such as schedule of airport shuttle bus service and precaution they should take when things goes out of control. (Next session deals on this proposal)

5.      On the occasion of 1st anniversary of Civil servants ascent of Mt. Everest the Chief Secretary of Nepal Government Madav Sharma said that “The Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation must own its own helicopter for the specific purpose. For the government it is not a big deal.” But what can make such proposal a big deal!?

6.      Himalayan Rescue Association is a viable organization because of numerous rescue work it has undertaken and the humanitarian cause (specially for tourists) to whom it has been dedicated:

·         It has created a trust in foreign diplomatic corps when strong support is required.

·         It has experience in organizing medical support in outdoor condition.

·         Its humanitarian work has been recognized internationally.

·         It is the first organization international organization call for SOS.

·         It is a non-profit and non business organization dedicated to serve humanitarian work.

·         It has impeccable and transparent financial record.

·         It is one of the most resourceful non government organizations that have 39 years of experience in saving people in the mountain.


While discussing on the subject it is important to have clarity in the definition of the meaning of crisis and disaster to enable us to understand the subject matter clearly. While talking about rescue it is easy for us to use these words as terminology while interpreting the event. So for clarity it is important to understand the meaning. According to Oxford Dictionary crisis means time of great danger, difficulty or uncertainty when problem must be solved or important decision must be made and disaster means an unexpected event such as a very bad accident, flood or a fire that kills a lot of people or causes a lot of damage. With this clarity in understanding and the information of our present status of preparedness I would like the participants in this symposium to discuss on the subject matter to come up with a resolution in the form of MOU declaring commitments from each of the organization. I also like to ask the participants to agree on the formation of Response Unit thus proposed.



Reference Information (source: Wikipedia)

Search and rescue (SAR) is the search for and provision of aid to people who are in distress or imminent danger.

The general field of search and rescue includes many specialty sub-fields, mostly based upon terrain considerations. These include Mountain rescue; ground search and rescue, including the use of search and rescue dogs; urban search and rescue in cities; combat search and rescue on the battlefield and air-sea rescue over water.

In our case we concentrate in Mountain and Ground to conduct SAR Mission

Ground Search and Rescue as defined by WIKIPEDIA

Ground search and rescue is the search for persons who are lost or in distress on land or inland waterways. Traditionally associated with wilderness zones, ground search and rescue services are increasingly required in urban and suburban areas to locate persons with Alzheimer's disease, autism, dementia, or other conditions that lead to wandering behaviour. Ground search and rescue missions that occur in urban areas should not be confused with "Urban SAR", which in many jurisdictions refers to the location and extraction of people from collapsed buildings or other entrapments.Some ground search teams also employ search and rescue dogs.

·         Definition of United states Defense Department -A search is "an operation normally coordinated by a Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) or rescue sub-center, using available personnel and facilities to locate persons in distress" and rescue is "an operation to retrieve persons in distress, provide for their initial medical or other needs, and deliver them to a place of safety."

All country assigns SAR responsibility to certain unit of the government or organizations either on state level, national level or local level.

As in case of Canada Search and rescue duties in Canada are the responsibility of the Canadian Forces and Canadian Coast Guard in conjunction with provincial and municipal governments and private organizations. The Department of National Defense (DND) has overall responsibility for the coordinated search and rescue system. SAR operations are organized by Joint Rescue Coordination Centers (JRCC). Authority for the provision of maritime SAR is assigned to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans by the Canada Shipping Act and the Canada Oceans Act. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and other police forces also coordinate ground search and rescue (GSAR) operations, often using volunteer GSAR teams operating in specific districts under provincial coordinating bodies.

Depending upon the situation in each country the duty can be assigned to Army, air force, police or other competent organizations. In our case normally Home Ministry take care in case of disaster. Out situation regarding tourist safety is quite unique.

In Sweden The Swedish Maritime Administration is responsible for maritime SAR in Swedish waters  The Sjöräddningssällskapet, or Swedish Sea Rescue Society is an organization aiming at saving lives and recovering property at sea, much the same as the Norwegian Norsk Selskab til Skibbrudnes Redning. The society operates 66 search and rescue stations and over 160 ships manned by about 1800 volunteers. of those 1800, more than 300 are on call at any time, and can respond within 15 minutes. In 2011, the volunteers turned out to an emergency 3274 times. The Swedish Sea Rescue Society does about 70% of alI the rescue and in the US there are many organizations with SAR responsibilities at the national, state and local level.

In January 2008, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released the National Response Framework which, serves as the guiding document for a federal response during a national emergency. Search and Rescue is divided into 4 primary elements, while assigning a federal agency with the lead role for each of the 4 elements.
In Vietnam, the National Committee of Search and Rescue is directly under the command of Ministry of Defense. The National Committee of Search and Rescue is responsible for searching, rescuing and disaster relief. In addition, the Vietnam Firefighting Force is another rescue force which is responsible for rescuing people during fires. The force is under command of the Ministry of Public Security.

In New Zealand smaller searches are controlled by the local police, who call on Land SAR for land-based operations, such as for lost hikers, and the Royal New Zealand Coastguard for coastal maritime incidents. Larger maritime search and rescue events, as well as reports of overdue aircraft, fall under the control of the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ), based in Avalon, which coordinates response from local coastguard, helicopter operators, merchant marine, air force and naval resources.

Urban Search and Rescue falls primarily within the domain of the New Zealand Fire Service, particularly the three USAR Taskforce groups based in Palmerston North, Christchurch, and Auckland. These teams draw together numerous specialists and organizations to achieve an integrated multi-agency response.

Among those organizations that act in a support capacity for NZFS are Response Teams (NZRTs). These are regional rescue groups of professional volunteers that train to a minimum industry standard of USAR Category 1R (USAR Responder), which is also standard for NZFS firefighters. Response Teams are registered with the Ministry of Civil Defense and Emergency Management (MCDEM), and assist their local MCDEM Groups and communities in emergencies to supplement fulltime emergency services. Their additional capabilities, which vary among different teams, include: high angle rope rescue, storm response, swift water response, medics, welfare, and rural fire support.[86] Many Response Teams deployed to assist in the rescue and recovery effort of the 2011 Christchurch Earthquake.

New Zealand's Search and Rescue Region extends from the South Pole to the southern border of the Honolulu region, including Norfolk, Tonga, Samoa, and Cook Islands.

Himalayan Rescue Association Nepal

Dhobichaur, Lazimpat (North Gate of the Royal Palace)
P.O. Box No. 4944,
Kathmandu, Nepal
Phone: +977-1-4440292 / 4440293
Fax: +977-1-4411956
E-mail :

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