Dispatch officials undergo training as avalanche danger increases in Utah

Posted at 6:15 PM, Nov 21, 2014
and last updated 2014-11-21 20:15:31-05

LITTLE COTTONWOOD CANYON, Utah -- Emergency dispatch for Salt Lake County spent a few hours Friday at 11,000 feet for some avalanche training at Snowbird.

Unified police and several other agencies took the day to train emergency dispatchers for the winter rescues ahead.

It was about as close to the real thing as possible. The Unified Police Department hosted a training event for its emergency dispatchers, so they could witness what the first responders do in a typical backcountry rescue.

“Start an interactive event where they can kind of see how these rescues progress,” Sgt. Travis Skinner said.

The idea is to shift the dispatch operator's mindset from a typical urban incident, to one with more variables--and often less information.

“They understand there is not an address for us to send them to,” Skinner said. “They understand that the response for rescuers can be delayed if we don’t use the resource or we don’t get the right location.”

Brett Kobernik, a forecaster with the Utah Avalanche Center, spoke about the value of such training.

“Get these folks who aren’t in a mountain setting, aren’t in a backcountry setting, up here to see how the various organizations come together, so that when that call comes in they’ll have a better understanding about how to get the proper teams dispatched,” he said.

Resort ski patrols and their avalanche dogs also took part in the event.

“It's good for her, anytime we can get in and out of the helicopter that’s great, you know it`s not something we do every day,” said Travis Hinkle, who is with Snowbird’s ski patrol.

On average, about 11 agencies are involved in a typical backcountry rescue, and the Utah Avalanche Center plays a vital role.

“Often times we are working with the various organizations together, trying to make decisions on how certain aspects of a rescue are going to play out," Kobernik said.

On average, Salt Lake County emergency crews respond to 36 winter rescues in the backcountry each year. They said reducing that number starts with people being informed before they head outdoors.

“The general public should know that there is a source of information available for them prior to getting out in the backcountry,” Kobernik said.

The Utah Avalanche Center is forecasting significant avalanche danger with this weekend's predicted storms. They offer educational classes as well as daily advisories. Visit their website for more information and for the latest forecast regarding avalanche conditions.