Ground Search and Rescue (GSAR) in British Columbia is done solely by volunteers. On call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, these unpaid professionals provide their time, their own gear and their dedication and expertise at no cost to the people of BC, and to the subjects they rescue.
Search and Rescue in BC (and Canada) is divided into 3 main categories.
Canada’s airspace is the responsibility of the Canadian Forces, and the Royal Canadian Air Force. In BC that’s 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron based in Comox, BC . Searches and rescues of downed aircraft are performed by the RCAF with the assistance of the volunteer Canadian Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA).
Marine search and rescue covers Canada’s three oceans and one of the most dangerous and complex coastlines in the world. The Canadian Coast Guard and the volunteer Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue (RCMSAR), formerly the Coast Guard Auxiliary, provide response.
- Ground and Inland Water:
Missing persons are the responsibility of the police force of jurisdiction, which for most of BC means Royal Canadian Mounted Police “E” Division, who enlist the volunteer member groups of the BC Search and Rescue Association (BCSARA) through Emergency Management BC (EMBC).
In BC, Ground Search and Rescue (GSAR) is coordinated through Emergency Management BC (EMBC) which sets guidelines for SAR teams and provides funding for operations, as well as its other responsibilities overseeing public safety responses in BC.
There are 84 Ground SAR Groups in BC representing approximately 2500 unpaid professionals on call at all times. Each group is responsible for a certain region of the province; they assess the kind of terrain they need to respond to, and the weather and mountain conditions they need to operate in. Over time, groups develop a needs assessment based on the kinds of searches or rescues they are asked to perform, and they use this information to decide what kind of training, equipment and rescue capabilities they need to develop. As technology and subject profiles change, the various groups reassess their needs regularly.
Dividing the province into regions allows each group to tailor its response capability to the needs of the communities they serve, and lets local knowledge and experience guide how the groups respond to tasks.
However, all SAR teams in BC operate under the policies, procedures and guidelines set out by Emergency Management BC. These include safety plans, standards for training and rescue equipment, and rules under which a SAR group may be activated, and “stood down.”
As stated above, Ground SAR is generally the responsibility of the RCMP or other police forces for missing persons, but other agencies can “task” a SAR group to respond
- BC Ambulance Service
BCAS is often the first call for an injured person. If that person is a significant distance from a road, BCAS frequently calls for SAR to assistance to access, stabilize package and transport the subject, all skills that SAR groups train for. Search and Rescue has a very close relationship with BCAS, and many paramedics are SAR volunteers in their spare time.
- BC Coroner’s Service
The tragic result of some SAR tasks is the death of a subject. Any death in BC calls into the jurisdiction of the BC Coroner’s service. However, because of weather, terrain or remote locations, BCCS will regularly ask SAR for assistance to transport the deceased.
- Fire Departments
Fire/rescue services are responsible for all rescue within municipal boundaries and are the first responders to many medical rescues. Fire departments regularly work closely with SAR to maintain interoperability for when specialised rescue techniques are required, or when a rescue requires additional resources.
- Canadian Armed Forces/Coast Guard
The military can ask SAR to assist in its duties to search for and access downed aircraft, or watercraft in distress.
- Parks Canada
There are seven national parks in British Columbia which take up a huge area of land. While Parks Canada maintains a group of professional and extremely well trained rescue personnel in these parks, they can request additional SAR resources when needed. A reciprocal agreement is in place where Parks Canada can assist outside of their parks in certain circumstances.