Apostle Islands National Lakeshore: A Review of Search and Rescue and Emergency Medical Services Operations, 2006-2015


Elan R Small, Sarah R Burbank, Jeanette M Lorme, Karl Carlson, Timothy B Erickson, and David S Young. 2018. “Apostle Islands National Lakeshore: A Review of Search and Rescue and Emergency Medical Services Operations, 2006-2015.” Wilderness Environ Med, 29, 4, Pp. 463-470.


INTRODUCTION: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (APIS) lies at the northern tip of Wisconsin and is home to a network of 21 islands along Lake Superior. The goal of this report is to investigate search and rescue (SAR) and emergency medical services (EMS) trends at APIS in an effort to improve visitor safety and resource allocation. METHODS: This study is a retrospective analysis reviewing APIS SAR reports and annual EMS summary reports from January 1, 2006, to December 31, 2015. Information related to incident type, incident date, individual demographic characteristics and activities, injury/illness type, cost, and contributing factors were recorded and analyzed in frequency tables. RESULTS: From 2006 to 2015, APIS SAR conducted 133 total missions assisting 261 individuals-200 not injured/ill, 57 injured/ill, and 4 fatalities. Median cost per SAR incident involving aircraft totaled $21,695 (range: $2,993-141,849), whereas incidents not involving aircraft had a median cost of $363 (range: $35-8,830). Nonmotorized boating was the most common activity resulting in SAR incidents. All 4 fatalities were attributed to drowning while kayaking or swimming. Cold-related injury/illness accounted for nearly half of all injuries/illnesses (45%) with the most commonly reported contributing factor being high winds. EMS responded to a total of 134 incidents. Trauma and first aid accounted for 43% and 34% of EMS workload, respectively. CONCLUSIONS: Overall, this study highlights the hazards associated with the frigid and rough conditions of Lake Superior. The reported results aim to help APIS personnel more saliently convey risks to visitors and plan appropriately in an effort to decrease the need for future rescues.