3.0 The Way Forward – Plans and Priorities for 2008
In 2008, improvements to the National SAR Program were achieved through efforts, nationally and internationally, to leverage technology, expand partnerships, build additional sustainable infrastructure and place a renewed focus on prevention programs.
3.1 Leveraging Technology
Monitoring of 121.5 MHz emergency beacon signals will cease on February 1st, 2009. Carrying forward the momentum established in 2007-2008, an outreach program, led by the NSS, will continue into the foreseeable future and target specifically those within the aviation community who have not yet adopted the newer 406 MHz ELT technology.
The implications of emerging technologies utilized for distress alerting will be a key focus for the National SAR Program in the coming years, as the largely unregulated introduction of some of these technologies may have a profound effect on the SAR system. A joint working group led by the NSS –as directed at the Joint ICSAR-GSARCC meeting in October 2007– continues to examine this issue and explore options.
3.2 Public Education
On the international front, the North American Safe Boating Awareness Week will increase and sustain the focus on five key safe boating messages.
A revitalization of the prevention pillar was witnessed through the expansion of the British Columbia Provincial Emergency Program “AdventureSmart” concept to a national approach. The aim of this national approach is to establish a broad public awareness through a targeted outreach program, thereby reducing the number of incidents and victims.
A grants and contributions program with Transport Canada’s Office of Boating Safety was renewed, which helped facilitate the provision of boating safety to a wider audience.
3.3 Working Together
Parks Canada continued to work with its SAR partners to enhance the National Public Safety Program. In June 2008, a multi-jurisdictional exercise was coordinated in Prince Edward Island National Park to showcase the effectiveness of using the Incident Command System (ICS) for managing SAR response. In addition to the live exercise involving responders from several different agencies and organization, training in ICS and a tabletop exercise was also offered to participants.
Parks Canada committed to supporting the Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC) for three years. The CAC’s main activities include public safety, prevention and educational programs and serves as a major point of contact for the Canadian public and visitors to Canada by providing avalanche safety information to these groups.
Transport Canada conducted an issue analysis/risk assessment with partners and stakeholders to identify and evaluate alternative means of alerting and locating aircraft in distress situations, following the satellite processing cessation of distress signals broadcast on the frequencies of 121.5 MHz and 243 MHz.
The Northern SAR Strategy continued to develop with work focussing on the development of a northern roundtable for SAR to tailor appropriate response and prevention strategies to this unique environment.
In consultation with provincial/territorial authorities and volunteer associations, the defining of the role of ground SAR champion was the focus for the RCMP in 2008.
At the provincial/territorial levels, building capacity, standardization and interoperability are scheduled to lead GSARCC’s five-year action plan.
3.4 Volunteers - Sustaining and Promoting the Vital Link
At the volunteer level, SARVAC, with the support of a three-year NIF project sought to solidify its governance structure, increase its role in prevention and maximize its members’ expertise in the delivery of outreach programs at the local level. It also provided toolkits to promote standardization and consistency in exercise design, as well as command and control functions.
3.5 Emerging Issues:
Across Canada, aging equipment and infrastructure are placing a strain on SAR resources. The Canadian Forces fixed wing (FWSAR) fleets dedicated to the SAR role are nearing the end of their expected life cycles which affects their operational effectiveness and availability. Although a replacement for FWSAR is on the horizon, a formal commitment by the Government has not yet been announced. The Chief of the Air Staff has identified a FWSAR replacement aircraft as one of his highest priorities, such that the CF will continue to provide no less than the level of service that it currently provides.
On the volunteer side, CASARA, the CCGA and SARVAC all face operational pressures to maintain their equipment. Combining new approaches and partnerships to minimize the financial burden on maintaining and/or replacing aging equipment and infrastructure will continue to be vital to the future of the role played by volunteers in the National SAR Program.
Recruiting and Retaining People
Whether paid or volunteer, the challenge to recruit and retain the right people is a daunting one for service delivery providers such as the CF, the CCG, the RCMP and Parks Canada and the volunteer associations that assist these departments and other levels of government across Canada.
The transition to 406 MHz ELTs poses a risk to the portion of the general aviation community that have not yet converted their ELTs. The risk is measured in terms of greater exposure time to those relying on 121.5 MHz ELTs to provide distress alerting, as delays in alert notification to SAR authorities will result in delays in mounting a SAR effort. A prolonged transition will not only increase the demands on already limited CF resources, but will also expose CF and CASARA SAR crews more often to additional risks. The Canadian military remains fully supportive of performance-based regulations and is hopeful that final approval and implementation will occur without delay. Thorough understanding of emerging technologies and their impact on the SAR system will guide the development of protocols to address changes in a consistent and cohesive manner.