The Virginia State Police Search and Recovery Team (SRT) is comprised of twenty-six Department members, supervised by a full-time SRT Operations Coordinator and has evolved into a highly elite special operations unit that provides the Commonwealth of Virginia and sometimes other surrounding states with a wide variety of professional recovery and rescue services.
The Virginia State Police Search and Recovery Team (SRT) missions are designed to solve a variety of calls for service, which may be summarized by their five main capabilities: Underwater Criminal Investigations, Swiftwater Rescue, Land Search and Rescue, Rope Rescue, and Medical Support.
Underwater Criminal Investigations
Underwater Criminal Investigations involves crime scene processing and evidence handling underwater. It shares crime scene processing procedures and requirements found in traditional investigations although SRT members are trained and certified to handle investigations in water. The key to making a professional Underwater Criminal Investigator is having great diving skills. To meet that need, SRT members are certified during training as PADI Master Divers and later many advance to Dive Masters and SCUBA Instructors. The SRT responds to hundreds of recoveries every year making them one of the most active dive teams in the Commonwealth.
Flooding around the Commonwealth is a vital area of concern with flash flooding happening overnight with little warning. Many counties and jurisdictions do not have the capabilities and services to help those in need. The SRT are highly trained swiftwater rescue technicians and often are pre-deployed to areas around the state to help evacuate or to rescue those that are trapped and in trouble. In 2003, the VSP swiftwater rescue services were recognized by President George W. Bush during Hurricane Isabel after the team responded to 23 separate rescues and assisted in countless evacuations.
Land Search and Rescue
The SRT has become a vital asset throughout the Commonwealth in providing land search and rescue (SAR) response in wilderness areas for lost children, Alzheimer patients, hikers, and hunters. To become proficient in Land SAR, Search and Recovery Team members go through an intensive program with training in wilderness survival, map reading, land search techniques, patient packaging and evacuation, tracking, and clue awareness skills. The SRT has assisted in land search and rescues throughout the Commonwealth assisting other Law Enforcement agencies, volunteer SAR teams as well as the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.
The SRT are trained in climbing and rope skills which are used in a variety of operations including underwater criminal investigations retrieving murder victims, and weapons out of wells, during swiftwater rescue operations and high angle rescues. Mechanical advantages, belay system, ascending devices, pulley systems, high lines, attendance rig, rope grabs, capture techniques and rappelling are just a few of the specialized techniques in which the SRT are trained.
SRT members are also certified Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) who have also gone through tactical medical training and are a part of the Department’s Operational Medical Support (OMS) Unit. The purpose of this capability is to provide medical support when local medical services are inundated due to storms, or other man-made or natural disasters. The SRT also provides medical support for the Department’s Tactical Field Force unit, Tactical Team operations, drug investigations, and other training and operational events around the Commonwealth. The SRT has been responsible for saving many lives due to their medical expertise and services.
The Virginia State Police Search and Recovery Team was created in 1962 with twelve Troopers being selected for the newly created specialty unit making it one of the oldest public safety dive teams in the country. The original name of the team was the “SCUBA Team” based on the focus of its mission which was recovering bodies, vehicles and evidence that made its way into the water. The name was changed in 2005 to reflect its expanded missions and capabilities.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you handle evidence thrown in the water?
It is important to handle evidence that is underwater the same way if the evidence was located on land. Land criminal investigators have certain standards and procedures they follow to collect, package and preserve evidence found on land in order to use it in court. Underwater criminal investigators provide the same professional services and follow the same criminal investigative procedures; however, these procedures have been modified, due to the underwater environment.
What kind of land search and rescue operations do the SRT respond to?
Each land search and rescue (SAR) is unique. People lost in the woods vary in age and reason. We search for small children who have wondered away from their families, lost hunters and hikers, Alzheimer patients and even downed aircraft. SAR operations are considered an emergency and are handled as such. Our response and search is time sensitive due to changing weather conditions, the lost person’s exposure to the elements and their possible medical needs.
What is swiftwater rescue?
Being in moving water can be very dangerous due to its power and speed. Swiftwater rescue involved highly trained personnel who operated in these conductions to help those in need. This could be those trapped in their homes and due to heavy rains and flooding, cannot escape, those who have attempted to drive across a flooded road, only to have their vehicles swept away in the current and are now trapped inside or on their vehicles, or even those who find themselves in the fast moving water and need help in getting out