Any incident in which SMRG participates must be under the command of a "responsible authority" or "authority having jurisdiction (AHJ)", generally a state, county or local law enforcement agency. After receiving notification of a wilderness emergency, the AHJ contacts the State Emergency Management Agency, if SAR resources are needed. With the broad authority to coordinate disaster management activities throughout the State Emergency Management Agency maintains the state's emergency plans for responding to natural and technological disasters. In Virginia, VDEM is the initial coordinator of resources for wilderness search emergencies. Other states have similar agencies which also have the authority to dispatch SAR resources.
Once the State Emergency Management Agency is briefed on the incident, it contacts the Appalachian Search and Rescue Conference (ASRC). ASRC represents a coalition of 9 mid-Atlantic SAR organizations, each covering a separate area of the mid-Atlantic region. Through its member organizations, ASRC can mobilize over 400 trained volunteers in a response territory that stretches from southern Pennsylvania to the northern border of North Carolina. Based on the geography and type of incident, ASRC will dispatch some or all of its groups (including SMRG) to the scene. SMRG members, who generally follow the progress of a search from the time the state emergency management agency is notified, then assemble teams and travel to the incident location.
Once on scene, members of SMRG and other ASRC groups coordinate with law enforcement, EMS, and local volunteers to carry out the search effort. SMRG members generally work together in teams of 4-6 searchers, combing through wilderness areas in search of subjects or evidence of their whereabouts. Once located, subjects may require medical assistance and/or evacuation depending on the type of incident that has occurred. SMRG conducts both manual patient evacuations as well as assisting with helicopter-based rescues.