The National Search and Rescue Program

By Terence Cottrell
Canada is the second largest country in the world. And because of the nation’s vast size and sometimes-harsh and varying weather conditions, often rugged, innacessible remote terrain and waters, Search and Rescue (SAR) operations in Canada must be tailored for each emergency to fit unique circumstances. This means that on every alert the full panoply of national resources must be considered to get the response deployed just right. To maximize the effort, responsibilities are necessarily shared.Resources included in this common effort are government, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and civilian volunteer community and business groups. This unified approach is called The National Search and Rescue Program.

The CAF is responsible for SAR requiring air- or water-borne assets and responds to some one thousand events each year. Its crews are on standby twenty-four hours a day. Provincial and territorial governments conduct searches for missing persons, especially those reported lost or missing on land or inland waters. This is called Ground Search and Rescue (GSAR). Authority for such operations is granted initially to local police services. Responses required in federal parks and preserves is the primary responsibilty of Parks Canada. The CAF may then support GSAR efforts with troops and vehicles, medical resources and specialized climbers or divers,etc. As part of our rule-of-law heritage and constitutional requirements preventing military coups-d’etats in this country, no miltary action is allowed before the civilian authority (Provincial/Territorial or Federal Attorney-General) has requested the Minister of National Defence for “aid to the civil power.” In remote areas The Canadian Rangers is often the unit responding.

Response crews in all cases must be highly-trained and well-led and have the right equipment, in order to respond promptly and not to become casualties temselves and to successfully carry out their tasks. CAF SAR resources themselve are strategically located in different regions of the country in order to respond quickly and effectively, taking into account variables such as weather patterns and changes, population densities and local resources in districts affected. For never was it more truly said that “time is of the essence” than in emergency responses. Sometimes a matter of minutes can make the difference between life and death.The CAF SAR system is flexible, allowing Region Commanders to assess their local variables such as peak holiday periods and the opening of fishing, hunting or snow-related activities to be made part of his or her operational overview. During forty hours a week SAR crews must be capable of being airborne in less than thirty minutes after a duty is assigned. At all other timesSAR crews must be in the air in under two hours since they were ordered to act.

The CAF maintains about one hundred and forty SAR Technicians (SAR Techs), highly-trained men and women specialists capable of giving advanced pre-hospital medical care up to national paramedic primary care standards. The also have advanced skills in both land and sea survival techniques in all types of weather and Canadian locations, parachuting, diving, mountain-climbing and descent and helicopter rescue. CAF SAR Techs are present in every SAR aircraft crew sent on a rescue mission. They have saved unknown numbers of lives.
The CAF sponsors and finances the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA), an association of volunteers established in 1985. CASARA supports the CAF with privately-owned aircraft and trained crews in both search and communications techniques when it responds to air-related SAR missions.

The essential element of The Department of National Defence first response organization is the Royal Canadian Air Force / Searce and Rescue.
The Government of Canada also supports The National Search and Rescue Secretariat, The Canadian Coast Guard / Search and Rescue.

Important Non-governmental organizations are:
The Civil Air Search and Rescue Association, The Search and Rescue Volunteer Association of Canada, The Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary.

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