We are fortunate in Canada to have one of the best SAR systems in the world. In Canada, the federal government and the provincial and territorial governments share responsibility for search and rescue; each has authority within its own jurisdiction and they collectively make up the National Search and Rescue Program. The National Search and Rescue Secretariat (NSS) is responsible for the National SAR Program policy, plans, co-ordination and reports.
There are three Joint Rescue Coordination Centres (JRCCs) established to coordinate response to both aeronautical and marine search and rescue incidents and two Maritime Rescue Sub-Centres (MRSC) established to coordinate response to marine search and rescue incidents. (JRCCs) responded to 8,015 incidents in 2005. While the incidents varied in severity, approximately 28,000 persons received some form of assistance.
The largest jurisdiction for ground and inland water search and rescue in Canada is that of the provinces and territories. The level of government involvement varies across the country, but many emergency measures organizations are actively involved in SAR program coordination, training, and evaluation. The responsibility for front-line SAR operations is generally delegated by provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to their respective police forces of jurisdiction. Parks Canada's warden service is responsible for providing ground and inland water search and rescue services within park boundaries. There are over 2000 ground SAR incidents each year in Canada.
Provincial and territorial SAR resources often provide an important complement to federal assets because many aeronautical and marine SAR cases require the assistance of land-based resources. Federal resources often assist during ground and inland water SAR incidents as well, providing the best possible resources to help those in need.
Volunteers are fundamental to the search and rescue system in Canada. They provide a trained and organized resource that is often called upon in SAR operations, and they help raise awareness of SAR-related risks among the general population. Ground search and rescue volunteers are organized into accredited teams and, in many cases, provincial associations. The national-level body which represents ground and inland SAR volunteers is the Search and Rescue Volunteer Association of Canada (SARVAC).
These volunteers support police and emergency measures organizations with both front line response and with delivering community-based awareness programs aimed at preventing SAR incidents.
Every search and rescue task involves putting a number of people into the same environment which is causing problems for the subject. We need to remember that SAR volunteers are not immune to the dangers. Also, they are often giving up work and wages and leaving their families and other activities to go out on a search.
It is important, as outdoor recreationalists and backcountry travellers, for us to realize that when it comes to being rescued in the great outdoors, help takes time to arrive. SAR volunteers are at their jobs, not sitting by an emergency phone waiting for it to ring. It takes time to muster for a search effort, and to prepare the gear and the teams to do an efficient and effective job.
Canadians are very fortunate to have an excellent, well-organized and structured SAR program, but we must not take advantage of this system, or rely on it to make up for our carelessness and lack of preparation.
In our story, "An Afternoon Hike," Jo held the popular misconception that if she could call for help that a helicopter could come and scoop her out of danger. Although helicopters and other aircraft are a very valuable resource in search and rescue, their use is limited by weather, daylight, landing conditions, and other restrictions. A helicopter is not a taxi. The use of a helicopter is very expensive, and taxpayers pay. It is not meant to be a free service for anyone who gets tired, cold or hungry out there!
In most cases, searchers must reach their subject on the ground to be able to help them. Search and rescue is well-organized and effective, but it does come at a cost. We would like to encourage everyone to consider this, and to help us reduce SAR incidents in Canada.