Negev Highlands Search and Rescue Unit. (NHSAR)

The NHSAR, is one of nine such units in Israel. Each unit is responsible for a specific geographical region. All the units are affiliated to the umbrella and non-profit voluntary organization Fast Israel Rescue Search Team, (F.I.R.S.T.). These units operate under the auspices of the Israel National Police and as such all the unit members are reserve policemen. When a mission, all members enjoy both the rights and the powers endowed to full time police personnel and are governed by the same rules and regulations.

NHSAR was set up in 1992. Today it has over 90 voluntary members - men and women, Arabs and Jews, who live and work in various towns, villages and settlements in the area.

The NHSAR is responsible for region that accounts for one quarter the land area of Israel. The unit is able to operate successfully thanks to the vast experience afforded it by volunteers who have brought with them extensive knowledge of the region. This includes many professions such as tour and field school guides, National Park Rangers, doctors and EMT’s, Bedouin trackers, etc...

The size of the territory that the unit covers necessitates its division into three main teams each responsible for a specific area; however it is not uncommon to find all the teams amalgamated in a single area in a communal effort to save lives.

The NHSAR is commanded by Orly Sharir with Gilad Gabay as second-in-command. Each of the three teams has a commander and second-in-command.

All the NHSAR members are volunteers and receive no financial return for their effort or time.

Search and Rescue (SAR):
The area’s topography and climate make SAR a very integral and basic part of almost every mission. The NHSAR is a national leader in this field. Cases are thoroughly investigated, witnesses and informants are intensively questioned, psychological profiles are drawn up and the area is divided into sectors and combed by team members who know the region well. Trackers and tracking dogs are used as well as helicopters and various communication equipment.
Cliff Rescue:
The Negev desert is strewn with high cliffs and deep gorges not to mention mountain wells and ancient water holes. Members of the unit involved in cliff rescue are required to train regularly as the skills required are both demanding and life-endangering. Methods used are among the most modern in the world.
Swift Water Rescue:
The Negev is infamous for its flash floods. Although the Negev is a desert, sudden cloud bursts over areas impermeable to water cause the dry river beds to fill with violent floods and the NHSAR is on Swift Water Rescue alert for almost 6 months of the year.
Medical Aid:
The NHSAR has three doctors one paramedic, a host of EMTs and a variety of equipment needed to provide life-saving treatment to trauma victims.
Urban SAR:
The NHSAR has a team of volunteers trained in Urban SAR – the search and rescue of people from ruined and/or collapsed buildings following earthquakes and/or explosions. Members of this team participated in the SAR effort in Eastern Turkey.
The NHSAR receives some aid from various sources including air force helicopters for search and med-vac, air force tactical aircraft for reconnaissance and dropping flares, police search helicopters, police tracking dogs, army all-terrain ambulances and medical staff, army trackers, army reconnaissance, Magen David Adom ambulance services, army and civilian earth moving equipment, neighboring SAR units etc.
NHSAR Equipment:
The NHSAR possesses equipment that is situated in three main stores – one for each team. The equipment is divided according to each team’s special needs and skills. The unit has its own four-wheel-drive truck, kept at Sde Boker and relies heavily on the twenty or so privately-owned all terrain vehicles. Each team has a trailer with emergency equipment that can be hooked up to one of the volunteer’s vehicles and towed to the SAR scene.
NHSAR Training and Exercises:
All NHSAR members bring with them certain skills, which form the basis of the unit. To these are added specific skills such as Swift Water Rescue, Cliff Rescue etc. In order to hone their skills, the volunteers train at least one day a month, participate in three big SAR exercises a year and those who have special skills such as Cliff Rescue and First Aid etc, train specifically in their fields.

Activating The NHSAR
The NHSAR volunteers are on constant alert every day of the year. When the call for help is received, those that can respond, do so. The call-up and delegation of duties is coordinated by the unit’s commanders, and teams are mobilized accordingly. Most of the unit members carry pagers and those who do not, are summoned by phone and/or radio.
Teams normally assemble next to their equipment stores or at a designated point. The urgency, size of emergency and location dictate the teams and team members called up.
Emergencies can last for anything from a few minutes to days and their duration and the area covered determine the number of volunteers, equipment and extent of outsourcing.
As soon as the NHSAR unit takes on an emergency, a command center is set up and coordinates the whole operation. Sometimes the topography necessitates establishing a forward field command post and/or re-transmission stations. Following the completion of the SAR, a detailed de-briefing and summation of events is carried out and reports filed.

International Relations.
The NHSAR develops and nurtures connections with similar units from around the world. These connections help to develop and promote the NHSAR skills.

The NHSAR has sent members to, and hosted members from, the French Gendarmes Chamonis Mountain Rescue Unit, the Colorado Rescue teams, and the Turkish ACOT SAR unit. Members of the NHSAR have also taken part in the rescue of earthquake victims in Eastern Turkey.