The federal government is providing $2 million to improve search and rescue in Alberta
Ottawa is committing more than $2 million to improve search and rescue (SAR) standards in Alberta.
The money will be used to build and further professionalize SAR teams across the province by establishing a new governance framework, accreditation and certification for SAR personnel.
Doug Ritchie, vice president of the Search and Rescue Association of Alberta, says SAR has come a long way since he first volunteered 30 years ago.
“I’ve been involved with search and rescue in Alberta from the beginning, so I’ve had the opportunity to see it develop. It started with family and friends joining together to look for family members and friends who had strayed from their community,” Ritchie said.
As Albertans began exploring the backcountry, so did the training of SAR personnel, who have progressed from volunteers to professionals over the years, Ritchie said.
According to Ritchie, the money announced Monday in Banff is key to making Alberta SAR more effective by adding consistent training across Alberta teams.
“The certification that we’re looking at, the accreditation and even the governance part are all part of becoming more and more professional so we can meet the needs of people who are probably having the worst day of their lives,” he said.
The new training will create a base level of certification in each region and allow less busy regions, which may host one rescue per year, to be moved to busier areas.
Each region would then have a baseline for civil emergency response, which could be moved to other regions in the province.
Same need, rising expectations
Ritchie said while the need for SAR services has remained relatively constant in recent years, public expectations have changed.
He said calls had also increased during the pandemic as more people ventured into the hinterland without being able to leave the province.
Federal Minister for Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair, who joined Ritchie in the announcement, said poor weather this winter and increased avalanche deaths show additional funds are needed.
“This fund helps advance and innovate research and rescue across Canada as the search becomes more complex than ever, and especially in light of the increasingly frequent and severe climate-related extreme weather events,” Blair said.
More than 1,400 search and rescue volunteers across Alberta are called upon to help find people who are lost, missing or in distress. The Search and Rescue Association of Alberta represents 33 SAR organizations across the province.
The funding of $2,075,919 is part of $7.6 million made available to the Federal Search and Rescue New Initiatives Fund.