SALEM — Law enforcement officials from Jackson and Josephine counties praised recommendations made by a task force appointed by the governor to improve search and rescue operations.
"I'm reading it right now," Jackson County Undersheriff Rod Countryman told the Mail Tribune. He said many of the recommendations contained in the report, released this week, already are being implemented in Southern Oregon.
Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson called it "good stuff" that should result in changes that will avoid the mix-ups and "who's in charge" issues that plagued the search for the Kim family, who were stuck and lost just after last Thanksgiving on a snowbound forest road northwest of Grants Pass. James Kim died trying to walk out to find help.
"If it happens in your county, the sheriff takes charge," Gilbertson said. Even in multi-county searches, coordination remains with a panel of affected sheriffs until narrowed to a single jurisdiction.
The 17-member task force was appointed as the result of two widely publicized searches in Oregon last year, the first being the Kim search. The other on Mt. Hood, three climbers died as the result of a savage blizzard that raked the peak.
Among the task force recommendations is setting clear guidelines in multi-jurisdictional searches, increased training for search and rescue leaders and volunteers, new subpoena powers of phone records in missing person cases and establishment of regional search and rescue councils.
Five Southern Oregon and two California counties have established a regional organization to pool resources and expertise. Known by the acronym COSAR (California Oregon Regional Seach and Rescue), Countryman said the multi-county group will hold its first regional training exercise this summer in Jackson County.
He also praised the recommendation for broader subpoena powers for records to aid in a search for missing individuals. "We need to obtain that information quicker and easier," he said.
Gilbertson said implementing the recommendations — particularly the jurisdictional suggestions — should go a long way in avoiding the confusion that initially plagued the search for the Kim family.
Because the hunt initially was over a wide area of western Oregon, Gilbertson said confusion arose over who was in charge, which in turn led to conflicts between law enforcement agencies.
The most bitter dispute arose between state police and the Josephine County Sheriff's Office.
Asked if he was disappointed that the only area representative on the task force was freshman Rep. Ron Maurer, R-Grants Pass, Countryman said no.
"Although the Kim search was the trigger, this wasn't just a Southern Oregon problem. We also had Mount Hood," he said. "I think the committee was broadly representative, and that brought different perspectives to the problem."
At a briefing on the recommendations held Wednesday in the governor's office, Maurer said it was clear the task force was not on a witch hunt.
"The recommendations out of this report are going to make a difference," he said.
Don Jepsen is a freelance writer living in Salem.