National Criteria for Volunteer Ground Search and Rescue
The individual province and territory is the legal jurisdiction for Ground Search and Rescue (GSAR) in Canada.
Across Canada there are volunteer GSAR teams comprised of members with excellent skills, training and experience. They can be found in every province and territory, whether they are managing a multi-team search using networked software or pulling a komatik to a hunting area in search of a lost hunter. In the area of “conventional” search management training, the skills involved are well-known among disciplined GSAR volunteers, and are the same everywhere. The standards to which they are taught, however, vary in name and presentation, and the structures that organize the people involved vary greatly across the country. Essentially, however, there is no difference between a “good” search manager in British Columbia, or a “good” search manager in Newfoundland. Nevertheless, there is no common national structure under which all Canadian GSAR workers can relate to each other.
Work on identifying the standards that are used for Canadian GSAR training and organization began in 1998 with the development of a document entitled “Existing Canadian Basic GSAR Training Content Provided By Provinces & Territories”. This document became known as the “Matrix”, because it is a spreadsheet representing individual GSAR training elements and the level to which each participating province and territory felt that each element should be addressed in their jurisdiction. It was given this long title because it soon became apparent that there were misconceptions about this initiative, that it might lead to the imposition of an outside “standard”, either directly or indirectly, on a jurisdiction with the legal responsibility (and concomitant liabilities) to establish it’s own standards.
Since that time, the project has evolved to become a search for a means to unite the management structures of Canadian GSAR, so that the greatest advantage can be made of the wealth of experience and knowledge in GSAR across the country. It has been advanced through a collaboration of the provinces and territories.
In 1999, the New SAR Initiatives Fund provided funding support for three years of bi-annual meetings to address this effort. The National Ground SAR Council of Canada, the body comprised of representatives of the provincial/territorial authorities for GSAR, nominated technical representatives to a Working Group. This group met formally for the first time in June 2000 and will meet for the last time in 2003. During this period, it has met cooperatively with a common vision, with facilitation assistance from the National Search and Rescue Secretariat (NSS), and has produced a set of criteria that will be used as the basis for all formal future GSAR training and structuring. It will be followed by those provinces and territories that agree to adopt this approach in order to ensure at least that future GSAR developments are harmonized across all Canadian provinces and territories. A list of participating provinces and territories is provided at the end of this section.
In order to ensure that each individual province and territory was provided with the flexibility to design and administer its own programs of training, recruitment, and management of the GSAR program, “criteria” were devised, instead of “standards”, to express the goals of proficiency that were agreed should be achieved as a minimum expectation by all participating members of the Working Group. These criteria are expressed with as much detail as possible, to provide adequate information and clarity, but with enough generality to permit interpretation. They come with no guidance on how standards are to be devised or implemented, just that these criteria should be met when they are.
The systems used to judge quality assurance against standards will be established by each individual province and territory, but within this overall framework. This represents a possible beginning of a system for Canadian Ground SAR to develop a workable basis for standards that can be both used flexibly within individual provinces and territories, and within a court system to provide confidence of quality and freedom from liability consequences. It would even establish a future basis for independent registration of provincial/territorial systems through the increasingly common ISO 9000 family of quality management standards, and thus establish a firm legal foundation for GSAR training, as well as harmonized national certifications of proficiency. With this accomplished, the vision of the working group will be realized over time.
The vision that drives this work is of a FUTURE time when every Canadian GSAR volunteer will function within a provincial/territorial system that keeps verified records of both training and operational experience, and issues certification cards for achievement of specified (provincial/territorial) standards (which will ultimately be consistent nationally). The provision of training is done by individuals and institutions that are mandated to provide training to these standards by the provincial/territorial authority for GSAR. Provincial/territorial standards will be consistent within a set of national criteria, and possibly in the future, may be integrated into a set of national standards. With this vision, certain objectives are assured:
The development of the National Criteria for Ground Search and Rescue has been guided by these principles:
1. Each province and territory retains all rights and responsibilities for Ground SAR within their areas of jurisdiction.
2. Differences in GSAR procedures, equipment, training or application of skills may predominate within provinces and territories as a result of geographic or cultural emphasis on different methods and outlooks. These differences are respected by this paper, and recognized as equally valid. Decisions respecting formal recognition of different training or operational procedures are within the purview of the provincial/territorial authority.
3. Training programs or courses provided by third parties (outside the provincial/territorial training structure) will be recognized at the discretion of individual provincial/territorial authorities.
4. It is the responsibility of the province or territory to determine the level of standard applicable to volunteers. For example, some provinces/territories may wish to assign the command aspects of the management criteria to the police authority.
These criteria represent the essential, minimal, elements required by each (participating) province and territory to be included within the official standards structures of any organization of ground SAR volunteers, or training program provided to ground SAR volunteers, for each of the levels provided herein.
These criteria may be substituted by the provincial or territorial authority with skills or methods appropriate for the culture or climate, provided they are equated by these authorities to represent the same level of capability reflected herein.
The methods used to evaluate the proficiencies expressed by these criteria may vary with each province and territory, but will include a practical demonstration of the skills.