Utah Unveils ‘Search And Rescue Card’

Buy an annual subscription that covers the costs of non-medical rescue services. It’s like AAA with helicopters.

utah search and rescue helicopter

The Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation announced the Utah Search and Rescue Assistance (USARA) card last week. With it, outdoor enthusiasts are exempt from non-medical costs associated with emergency rescue services, should the need arise.

The purpose of the subscription service is to protect both victims of unexpected worst-case scenarios, and the state and counties in which they occur. Both residents and tourists can purchase the card for single- or five-year coverage to defer fees for helicopter transport and emergency crews.

Meanwhile, proceeds from the USARA card will fund training for search-and-rescue (SAR) volunteers and maintenance costs for emergency vehicles and equipment.

Utah Search And Rescue Assistance Card

The USARA card represents a joint initiative of Utah’s emergency management, outdoor recreation, and Governor’s offices. The program, live now, offers annual coverage to individuals for $25, and families for $35. Five-year plans cost $100 and $140 respectively.

In a press release, the Office of Outdoor Recreation noted the program will help relieve the burden costly rescue efforts place on “small tax bases of rural communities.”

Currently, Utah funds emergency rescue crews through surcharges on registered recreational vehicles and boats. While that program generates hundreds of thousands of dollars for counties across the state, the USARA site notes money often falls short of fully covering the costs of rescue operations.

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More than 1,400 people require rescue by Utah crews each year, 63 percent of whom are rescued in counties where they don’t reside. That imbalance results in some counties having to back bill victims for the costs of their rescue.

“The USARA card gives you and your family peace of mind when you are recreating in Utah’s backcountry, while supporting the search and rescue teams we depend on,” said Tom Adams, director of the Office of Outdoor Recreation in a statement.

Rescue Assistance, Not Insurance

It’s important to note that a USARA card is not a form of insurance. Card-holders are still responsible for all medical costs following a rescue. While USARA covers the cost of planes or helicopters in a SAR operation, it will not count toward transportation to a medical facility.

In addition, individuals may still be responsible for the costs of “ineligible” rescues. According to the USARA website it does not cover operations when “a person recklessly or intentionally creates a situation requiring an emergency response.”

Nor does the card guarantee a rescue. A disclaimer on the sign-up page states “rescues deemed by a SAR team as frivolous, unnecessary or posing excessive risk may not be undertaken.”

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However, the site notes that “search and rescue teams will always come to your aid as soon as the rescue can be performed safely,” even to those without a card.

Anyone 18 or older can purchase the USARA “card.” It is not a physical card, but members receive an electronic or printed proof of purchase they can show following a rescue.

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Adam Ruggiero is an all-sport activity junkie - from biking, running, and (not enough) surfing, to ball sports, camping, and cattle farming. If it's outside, it's worth doing. Adam graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BA in journalism. Likes: unique beer, dogs, stories. Like nots: neckties, escalators, manicured lawns.

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