New search and rescue center set to break ground this year


Omar Benitez

Search and rescue member Katie Ybarra and Ember on a practice run

Omar Benitez, Staff Reporter

After receiving over $1 million in funding, the Kittitas County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) now has a new plan for a search and rescue/emergency operations center.

According to Kittitas County Commissioner Laura Osiadacz, the funding comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and was part of the funding from the fiscal year (FY) 2023 Omnibus Appropriations Bill and was secured by support from Washington State Representative Kim Schrier.

According to Osiadacz, the new center is set to break ground later this year in the summer, with the planned completion being targeted for late summer 2024.

The plans for the center come after the county has experienced an increase in search and rescue calls as people begin to venture out into the woods after the pandemic. According to Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office Inspector Chris Whitsett, a total of 66 search and rescue calls were made in 2022.

With rescues increasing, Kittitas County Search and Rescue team members like Adam Ybarra have been looking for more support.

Search and rescue member Adam Ybarra and Ember. (Omar Benitez)

“This last summer we saw a couple instances where we were running multiple rescues at the same time,” Ybarra said. “The problems are getting more complex, having that new center I think it’d be really big.”

The new center is planned to open in Cle Elum to help serve the upper western part of the county, where according to Osidacz, around 80% of the search and rescue calls occur.

“Actually having a purpose built station for us where we can house all of our equipment, where we can have everything together, where we can have trainings and have a central location to work out of, I think it’s gonna be a huge help to the organization,” Ybarra said.

Previously, the only other center was located in Ellensburg, which made for longer response times during emergency search and rescues according Osiadacz said.

“In emergency situations or things of that nature, time is of the essence and so this will cut down on the response times,” Osiadacz said. “Now volunteers and the sheriff’s office will have access to equipment that’s nearby so that the search and rescue can happen in a much more expedited fashion.”

According to Osiadacz, the new center is planned to be built adjacent to the Cle Elum airport to have convenient access to helicopters during emergencies.

Ember the Rescue dog. (Omar Benitez)

Apart from search and rescue, the center is also planned to be equipped to help deal with emergencies like wildfires and flooding.

“With towns like Cle Elum, Roslyn and Teanaway sitting within a fireshed and the area regularly facing wildfires, and other places in the county experiencing repeated flooding … the hope is to be able to better support these communities during emergencies like this in the future,” Osiadacz said.

The plan for the center has been in motion for a few years by the BOCC, the sheriff’s office and search and rescue teams after the increased calls, Osiadacz said.

“We have a lot of search and rescues every year and we really don’t have a location that meets the requirements for the continued increase in calls, so that’s when the idea for the center first started,” Osiadacz said.

The exact amount of federal funding that the BOCC secured for the project was $1,186,120.