USAR Site Selection Zones

20 Feb 2016 9:26 PM | Anonymous

Like all Technical Rescue incidents, it is important we establish effective operational zones (such as hot, cold, and warm zones) to provide safe working areas and stage the incident outside of where the actual rescues are conducted (hot zone) and keep the public safe and media outside - etc. This article highlights some guidelines but all incidents should be taken on a case by case basis with the information and resources at the time in the conditions and environment faced.

The graphic above illustrates a sample cordon for Operational Zones in a USAR (Urban Search and Rescue) incident but the principles are virtually the same whether it is a water rescue incident or a rope rescue incident.

Once attending rescuers at any level have attended and stabilized the problem they must start with scene safety and maintain personnel accountability.  Communication must be stated and restated with Incident Command established and Triage started, if bodies present - such as an explosion with leaking gas or collapsed structure event with bodies and injured seen on the surface and area. 

We should establish outer security perimeter which for general purposes - depending on the incident and HazMat / CBRN/E could be at least 300 feet from the incident. Then you can sub-divide the Control Zones (rule of thumb given below) however some zones are much smaller than that such as on a cliff face where a limber has fallen (where you may stage nearer and provide edge safety) or in a swiftwater rescue incident (where your warm zone will be probably well within that 100 feet... like just 10 feet from the hot zone!)  


  • 100’ for critical functions
  • Technician Level personnel
  • "Target Zone" for 'hands on' rescue
  • Personal Accountability before entry
  • Rescuer PPE worn here 


  • Warm Zone 200’ for support functions
  • Operations Level personnel
  • Tool/equipment staging
  • Decontamination
  • Rescuer PPE 'ready' or don/doff here


  • Cold Zone 300 for Command and Control
  • Command Post
  • Apparatus staging
  • Rehab
  • No requirement for PPE here
REMEMBER: Each incident is different and will be assessed on a case by case basis but they all start with a basic understanding of rescuer safety and effective rescue staging for operational effectiveness and therefore basic standard principles and following SOPs / SOGs, apply.

The point about this article is to have the mindset of operational zones and remember to establish your IC early on with communications and size-up given a priority.

There a saying, that 

"... the first 5 to 10 mins may dictate the next 5 to 10 hours" 

so do things properly and do not be too hasty in your response. (And remember that "Hasty Searches are a type of search method - not a mental approach to rescue!")

Whether you are deciding where to put the cordons and operational zones or facilitating them for incident command - it is important to understand why there is a 'Hot Zone' in a rescue or the Fire Ground and why we establish certain function within and away from it. This is a basic concept that can be built on in complex rescue and incident scenarios - such as have a multidiciplinary rescue and medical incident close together with different expected cycling phases of response and monitoring.

Gary Foo

SAR Chief

Technical Rescue Section 

Disaster Paramedic

UN Coordinator

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