The science of search: Efforts behind Midland County Search and Rescue

When someone you love is missing – every minute counts.

Not every municipality has the resources to deal with a missing person effectively. Some efforts are left up to police or fire departments that may not have all the resources or training at their fingertips or certainly have to balance a broad number public safety needs.

A little known, but powerful force in Midland County, is an effort that was started in 2009 to combat just that – Midland County Search and Rescue.

The organization was founded by John Hutcheson, Jay Anderson, Rich Harnois, Dirk Dagenais and Kevin Barnum after the group found that there was no applicable standard for search and rescue tactics in the region. Often counties that implemented other response efforts like Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) weren’t successful due to lack of standards and processes.

MCSAR is dispatched by the Midland County Sheriffs Office.

So Hutcheson, newly retired, set out to make a standard for Midland County. After extensive research and writing proposals, procedures and more over the course of three months, Hutchinson presented the proposal to Midland’s previous sheriff Jerry Neilsen – who accepted it and agreed to work with Hutcheson and his team.

An independent, civilian and all-volunteer staff, Midland County Search and Rescue is a 501(c)(3) and operates only at the discretion and deployment of the Midland County Sheriffs Office.

Lost-person behavior is an emerging science with meticulous characteristics and probabilities for how a person of a certain age, ability and mindset is able to navigate any given terrain.

The group operates with strict procedures that have statistically proven to be better at finding those who have gone missing.

This civilian, all-volunteer group is looking for additional volunteers in any capacity and training will be provided.

Midland County Search and Rescue provides relief, reassurance and hope to families who are dealing with a missing loved one.

“We consider ourselves to be working for the family of the missing person,” says Hutcheson. “Often, it’s not that they don’t want to be involved, but this can be a very detailed process, and often they are not in the mindset as a worried loved one to be effective. They are happy to hand the responsibility over to us.”

Time is a huge factor in their efficacy and success.

There is an extensive amount of training before SAR volunteers even get to go out in the field. Often searching in areas without cell phone reception, volunteers are trained in radio operation and expert navigation.

MCSAR’s first search effort was for Meridian High School Coach Bob Cole, who was assumed to have fallen through the ice.

Operating off radio and compass navigation, MCSAR work in teams to search locations that are often remote.

Gail Crachiola, board member at MCSAR, describes the process they go through generally as a backwards onion, starting at the center, which is the last known location the person was seen, working out from there. While she relates it to something simple, the process is very complex and deals with numerous factors like age, ability, familiarity of the area, the time of year, the person’s state of mind and how long the person has been missing for as just a few of the factors.

Then there is the search team’s training, which is often months long before they even set out on their first search mission. They operate under FEMA’s National Incident Management System (NIMS), which is training for prevention, protection against, mitigation, response to, and recovery from the effects of incidents. Since teams often search in areas where cell phone and GPS is not available, they train with compass-only navigation among other things. Training is comparable to what United States Marines often receive.

Lost-person behavior is an emerging science with meticulous characteristics and probabilities for how a person of a certain age, ability and mindset is able to navigate any given terrain.

Teams operate with a field team leader, who is responsible for getting the search crew in and out of remote search areas safely. All team members are also amateur radio licensed, as they work via radio only when in the field, as to mitigate any fail points in communication.

For Kevin Blaser, a trained EMT and Midland local who just joined the rescue effort and obtained his radio license, it was the ability to make a significant impact with his existing training.

Kevin Blaser, Midland County Search and Rescue's newest volunteer.

“Search and rescue efforts are a vital function that help the community and the group needs more manpower,” says Blaser. “I was looking for an organization where I could make the greatest impact with my available time. With my EMT background, I found that my existing experience translated well.”

Blaser has completed his MCSAR training and is now placed into the active pool for search efforts.

The whole Midland County Search and Rescue group meets once per month on general topics and also separately conducts a drill each month for education and training efforts.

MCSAR operates with strict procedures that have statistically proven to be better at finding those who have gone missing.

The group is always lead by a deputy sheriff and the current president of Midland County SAR is Lance Beyerle, a deputy sheriff. Beyerle has served as president of MCSAR for a little over a year. He discusses the efforts of the group, who commit hundreds of hours to search and rescue for free.

“Everything the group does is a detailed science based upon years of proven research,” says Deputy Beyerle. “We have procedures for situations dealing with land and water, whether the person has a car, bike or is on foot and they have proven to be quite successful.”

Deputy Lance Beyerle with the Midland County Sheriff's Department and president of MCSAR.

“Often, MCSAR will be called before a sheriff is even on the scene, because the time aspect is very important for the group to mobilize and get to work,” says Beyerle.

The biggest part that MCSAR plays is functioning as the family’s highly-trained delegate for search and rescue. Regardless of outcome, families are often grateful to have help in times of need. In situations where rescue is not successful, loved ones are able to emotionally prepare for an adverse outcome and search and rescue can offer certainty on the situation.

“We really consider ourselves to be working for the family in times like these, where each moment is critical,” says Hutcheson. “We also truly appreciate the support that Midland County Search and Rescue has received from the community in supporting a civilian volunteer force.”

MCSAR operates with the help of a small amount of dedicated volunteers in the community.

“The group does some very important work and even in the situations where we cannot offer the family the positive news they are hoping for, we can provide them with clarity and closure, which is very important in the steps of grief,” says Beyerle. “It doesn’t leave the family left wondering.”

If you would like to get involved in this important volunteer effort, Midland County Search and Rescue needs volunteers of all types, and importantly will provide all training for different types of roles and procedures.

When a loved one is missing, every minute counts.

Volunteer roles that training is available for include search management, trained search members, operations members who manage field teams, field team leaders and those able to help with communications efforts. For more information, contact Midland County Search and Rescue or the Midland County Sheriff’s office or email

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Read more articles by Courtney Soule.

Courtney is a longtime Midland resident and enjoys telling the story of the community's evolution. She ran Catalyst Midland as the publication's managing editor from October 2017 through September 2020. Her favorite topics are interesting people, change makers, outdoor recreation and design. Aside from Catalyst, her published work can be found various places including Elephant Journal, Thought Catalog and a number of other websites, papers, menus and the occasional one-liner.