Home Search and Rescue Division K-9 Operations Team
K-9 Operations Team

Team Information

  • Supervisor: Sergeant Brehm
  • Description: K-9 Operations Team members have responsibilities in cases involving land/water cadaver, disaster, area searches, and trailing (those not involving a criminal suspect). The team is supervised by a Sergeant and is comprised K-9 Handlers and Searchers who may serve as field support staff.
  • Membership: Click here for SAR Division membership information.
  • Contact Information: Call 309-888-5030 to request K-9 Operations Team services. Requests must originate from a government agency with jurisdiction in the area to be searched. Be prepared to provide your name, agency, title, and contact information to our dispatch center in addition to pertinent details about the search.

K-9 OtisK-9 Handlers and their K-9 partners are required to complete extensive, ongoing training to maintain team membership and their required certifications. Probationary training consists of baseline content delivered through the Illinois Search and Rescue Council (ISARC), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the McLean County Emergency Management Agency. Field Operations training occurs once a team member is promoted to the rank of K-9 Handler and involves in-depth, discipline-specific training (Crime Scene Preservation, Scent Theory, K-9 First Aid, Training Logs and Report Writing) and certification through an agency-approved accreditation organization. Because of the nature of the discipline, K-9 Handlers can expect to spend between 20-30 hours per month in some form of either formal or informal training with their K-9 partner.

Industry standard certification is defined as certification with an agency-approved reputable organization that meets industry standards for the specific discipline (area search, land cadaver, water cadaver trailing, disaster). Current agency-approved organizations include:

Types of Search and Rescue K-9s
There are several types of search dogs and some are dependent upon geography and conditions (ie: avalanche). In general, properly trained search dogs can help find:

  • Lost children in the wilderness or urban areas
  • Overdue hunters, hikers, or fisherman
  • Despondent persons
  • Nursing home residents who walk away
  • Persons under collapsed structures or in disaster debris
  • Drowning victims
  • Human remains in a variety of contexts (water, buried, crime scene evidence)

The type of situation or incident will dictate the type of search dog that is most useful. The McLean County EMA K-9 Operations Team trains and deploys four main types of search dog teams.

Trailing Dogs
Trailing dogs will follow the route of a specific person’s scent deposited on the ground as a person moves through an area. A scent article is necessary so that the dog can discriminate the scent of the missing person from that of other persons or searchers in the same area. A scent article can be anything with the subject's scent on it, but it should not be tainted with scent from someone else if possible. A scent article is usually packaged in a sealed plastic bag to keep it pure. This scent article will hopefully match deposited scent in the search area that the dog will pick up and trail. Scent is affected by temperature, humidity, time, and other factors. Because of this, it is very important to field a trailing dog as soon as possible.

Area Search Dogs
Area search dogs find people by locating human scent as it travels on the wind. They usually work in a grid pattern until they encounter scent of the missing person, and then follow that scent on the wind until they locate the person. They are effective in finding a lost or missing person in large areas or thickly vegetated areas where human searchers would take considerably more time. Area search dogs are not typically scent specific (like a trailing dog) and will locate any human scent in a search area. They are very effective for covering large search areas with high efficiency and accuracy.

Disaster Dogs
Disaster dogs are specifically trained to find live human scent within the context of a disaster (such as collapsed structures, debris piles, mudslides, etc.). Disaster dogs are trained to ignore all other odor except for that of live human scent and must be very comfortable working on uneven surfaces, dangerous debris piles, and around a great deal of noise and distraction during emergency response to a disaster. All of the disaster dog teams with Illinois Search Dogs of McLean County EMA train and certify to FEMA standards, which are nationally-recognized federal standards that are very rigorous. Only the most qualified dogs and handlers will achieve this certification.

Cadaver Dogs
Cadaver dogs are trained to specifically find the odor of decomposing human remains. Cadaver dogs are trained to ignore live human scent and animal scent, and only indicate on human remains. These dogs can be used to find human remains related to crime scenes, old missing persons cases, small scent sources, and residual scent.

Cadaster: Cadaver dogs that have special training in the context of disaster scenes and debris (cadaster dogs) can also be used to locate human remains following a natural or manmade disaster. Illinois Search Dogs of McLean County EMA routinely cross-trains their cadaver dogs to be operational as cadaster dogs as well, to compliment our disaster dog teams. 

Water: A specialty subset of cadaver dogs is water cadaver dogs. Similar to cadaver dogs, these dogs have been trained to find the odor of decomposing human remains. However, water cadaver dogs have been specifically trained to find this odor beneath the surface of the water and to indicate the source of the odor to assist divers in a more directed and speedy recovery of a drowning victim.

Considerations for Becoming a K-9 Handler
Our team is always open to new members. Having a dog first is not a requirement and in fact, it is often best to learn more about SAR and the specific traits necessary for a dog to do this work first so that you can select the best possible K-9 candidate for this job. We are more than happy to help you find the appropriate working partner if you want to become a volunteer K-9 handler. Click here to review some of this important information to learn more about what it takes to be a SAR dog handler, and what kind of K-9 partner is necessary for this work.