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Crisis looming for search and rescue
Auditor general finds federal capabilities are nearing breaking point

Danielle Sachs
Northern News Services
Published Monday, May 13, 2013

National search and rescue operations will be in serious trouble if improvements aren't made in the coming years, according to a spring report from the auditor general.

NNSL photo/graphic

A recent report from the auditor general focused on federal search and rescue shortcomings. Large-scale operations will be in trouble if they don't receive funding for equipment and facilities he said. - NNSL file photo

Large-scale search and rescue operations run by the Canadian Forces and Canadian Coast Guard will be in trouble if they don't receive much-needed cash to improve aging equipment and facilities, according to the report, released at the end of April by auditor general Michael Ferguson.

Nunavut is served by two search and rescue regions with help coming from Winnipeg, Man., and Trenton, Ont., or Halifax.

Before help is called in from those regions, search and rescue operations start at the local level with RCMP, Canadian Rangers and civilian volunteer groups responding first.

When the Canadian Coast Guard or Armed Forces has to be called in, they aim to have help on the way within 30 minutes.

Search and rescue in Canada uses all levels of government, private contractors and volunteers to respond to distress calls.

"Canada has one of the world's largest areas of search and rescue responsibility, covering 18 million square kilometres of land and water and more than 243,800 km of coastlines. Geographic and weather extremes also make it one of the most challenging locations," said the report.

The report found the Coast Guard meets that goal 96 per cent of the time and the Air Force meets its goal 85 per cent of the time.

The Air Force response times are based during their business hours: 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. during the weekdays. They aim to get planes off the ground within two hours on weekends and evenings.

The system is near the breaking point, said Ferguson in his report. Unless aging equipment such as the Hercules C-130s and de Havilland DHC-5 Buffalos can be replaced, response times and service in life-or-death situations will suffer.

Marine and air search and rescues are a federal responsibility. Ground search and rescue is where it becomes more local.

"For the most part, it's volunteer search and rescue operations that do the majority of the ground searches," said Hillary Casey, policy analyst with Community and Government Services. "Our protection services division, which handles search and rescue, would help co-ordinate those efforts."

Community and Government Services helps out with training through its protective services division and the Municipal Training Organization.

"The Municipal Training Organization is sort of like an arm's-length organization that works with government funds to provide training within all the communities," said Casey.

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