Operation Nanook 2011 – an annual northern sovereignty exercise led by the Canadian Forces' Canada Command – was to be different from previous years. From a base in Resolute Bay, Nunavut, Canadian troops would perform their annual sovereignty and training exercises in the North during the first part of the Operation from August 4-20, but Canada Command chose to use the second portion – from August 20 to 26th – to conduct Canada's first whole-of-government simulation search and rescue exercise involving a major air disaster (MAJAID) in the far North.
Seizing the opportunity to conduct a large-scale disaster simulation requiring extensive inter-governmental and inter-agency coordination and cooperation in a very remote location, Canada Command invited participants from across the federal, territorial and provincial governments to participate. The aim was to identify challenges to collaboration in an effort to develop a more seamless approach to SAR response both in the North and across Canada.
With such a simulation and so many key participants on site, it can only be expected that when word came of a plane crash within minutes of the MAJAID site, it had to be followed with "No Duff" – a military term advising personnel, SAR responders, medical staff and other experts on site that this was in fact a real emergency.
For those on the ground anticipating a simulation, the reality came as quite a shock when a First Air Boeing 737-200 passenger jet arriving from Yellowknife crashed into a hillside near the Resolute Bay airfield. This immediately launched SAR responders into action who put all their training and preparations to practiced use.
Literally within minutes of the crash, a C17 military aircraft inbound from Canadian Forces Base Trenton, was landing at Resolute Bay airfield. On board were participants from the National Search and Rescue Secretariat, the Transportation Safety Board, military medical personnel and SAR technicians from a variety of organizations who were quickly integrated into the operation.
EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCES, EXCEPTIONAL COORDINATION
The Executive Director of Canada's National Search and Rescue Secretariat (NSS), Ms. Géraldine Underdown, was on the C17 arriving from CFB Trenton. While word of the accident was relayed by the pilot to passengers on board, none were prepared for the images of the crash site as they came in to land. Despite the shock and horror of the scene, Ms. Underdown was impressed with the efficiency with which resources from the C17 aircraft were quickly mobilized – preparing medical staff and SAR technicians for rapid priority deplaning upon landing. While only the medical personnel was allowed to disembark at first, the Transportation Safety Board personnel were already standing in the aircraft's open doorways, taking photographs of the crash site for their investigation. Remaining passengers were removed to a temporary holding zone while the rescue efforts were underway. It was later learned that there were 12 fatalities in the crash, and miraculously three injured survivors.
CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
For Ms. Underdown, the experience was a life-altering demonstration of the fragility of life, and underscored her commitment as head of the NSS to overcoming the resource and coordination challenges of SAR in Canada's north. Recognizing the vastness of the North populated with few people and challenged with limited resources, the reality remains for Ms. Underdown that northern Canadians deserve effective SAR response resources.
Despite the success of the First Air crash response in terms of timing and deployment of SAR personnel, this tragic accident underscored the need for improved SAR response in the North, as many questioned whether there would have been a positive outcome had the MAJAID exercise not been taking place in the area at the time of the incident.
For Canada's National SAR Program, the accident was a demonstration of effective SAR coordination, but also flagged that more needs to be done to leverage SAR resources across a variety of government departments, agencies, private sector companies, and volunteer organizations, to further develop a SAR program that provides northern residents with the best possible chances for survival at all times in case of a major large scale incident.
Parks Canada at 100
THE WORLD'S FIRST NATIONAL PARK SERVICE CELEBRATES ITS CENTENNIAL
Moose cross a hiker's path in Gros Morne National Park. Kayakers paddle across an icy blue lake in Banff. A child explores the ramparts at Fort Louisburg in Nova Scotia. Around the world, scenes like these have become symbolically Canadian. For over a century, Canadians have been able to enjoy landscapes and experiences like these – and thousands more – thanks to Parks Canada's stewardship of these unrivalled and irreplaceable places.
In 1911, Canada's government was the first in the world to establish a national service dedicated to the preservation and care of parks and cultural sites. For Canadians, this decisive action has led to the ability to enjoy some of the most stunning landscapes and meticulously maintained historic sites in the world.
Parks Canada's founding in 1911 responded to the desires of Canadians – intrigued and awed by the natural beauty of their country – to have access to Canada's most treasured landscapes and natural wonders. Located along train lines, Canada's first national parks and surrounding areas would quickly become popular with European and Canadian tourists eager to explore Canada's diverse landscapes, from the rugged terrain and stunning vistas of the Rocky Mountains in the west to the ocean vistas of the Maritimes in the east. As tourism grew and Canada's population expanded, Parks Canada recognized a desire amongst Canadians to also explore Canada's cultural landscape and undertook the management of National Historic Sites from coast to coast to coast.
From Signal Hill in Newfoundland and Labrador to the national parks in the Rockies and Canada's North, today Canadians and visitors from around the world are able to enjoy the beauty and richness of Canada's 42 national parks, 167 national historic sites and four national marine conservation areas. From coast to coast to coast, visitors are able to explore Canada's diverse landscape and impressive history, benefitting from Parks Canada's vast interpretive programming which effectively balances conservation and visitation, education and recreation.
Since its inception in 1911, Parks Canada has grown to become Canada's largest provider of historical and natural heritage tourism and managing the country's wealth of historic and natural treasures. To celebrate the agency's centennial, a series of events have been planned at locations across the country.
For more Information visit: www.pc.gc.ca.
A commitment to cooperation in international Arctic SAR
Incidents in the Arctic are amongst the most challenging for SAR personnel. Facing the challenges of shorter days and even round-the-clock darkness, extreme weather and terrain, successful rescues rely on swift responses, efficient operations, and qualified rescue personnel and equipment. But what happens when the incident takes place in international waters, or in a remote location requiring additional resources and support beyond one country's capacity?
In Greenland this past spring, Canada's MP for Nunavut Leona Aglukkaq, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov joined representatives from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden to sign the Arctic Council's first legally binding agreement: an international treaty on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic.
While Council members have cooperated previously on SAR operations in the Arctic, a continued increase in air and marine traffic in the Arctic in recent years and the increased potential for incidents —including the grounding of two cruise ships in Canadian waters alone in the past four years – have brought urgency to the need for enhanced Arctic SAR capabilities across the area. Reviews of past SAR operations have also highlighted the need for better cooperation and coordination among the eight member states in responding to emergencies in the Arctic.
In the Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment Report from 2009, the Arctic Council identified existing Arctic SAR capacity to be limited, and resources challenged in responding to the increase in passenger vessel traffic in northern waters – both in Canada and internationally. In fact, the report identified a discrepancy between the pace of growth in Arctic marine tourism and investments being made in SAR equipment and infrastructure across the Arctic states.
Among the report's 2009 recommendations was the need for a binding international agreement for Arctic SAR which would identify SAR resources and infrastructure commitments from Arctic Council countries, and provide a framework for coordinated and collaborative SAR operations across the Arctic.
In theory, the solution was simple: develop a unified, international approach to Arctic SAR which could draw on the resources and expertise of multiple states. In practice, this would require detailed planning and commitments from all eight members of the Arctic Council to ensure its success.
The Council was quick to respond with a treaty in which all member states commit to nominating resources, organizations or institutions with full discretion for SAR in their respective Arctic area. While each country remains responsible for SAR in their territories, the treaty outlines the responsibilities of all Council members towards coordination and cooperation for SAR activities in the region. The treaty also commits members to an open exchange of information on search and rescue facilities, airfields and airports (including their refueling and resupply capacities), and the locations of supplies and medical facilities. For SAR personnel this readily available information is invaluable to ensuring swift SAR response capabilities, is critical to successful coordinated operations, and is vital to ensuring effective, coordinated international SAR operations in the hostile Arctic terrain.
Moving forward, this agreement presents significant opportunities and challenges for SAR in Canada. For Canadians living in the Arctic, the increased SAR capacity made possible through international cooperation will provide a greater sense of security in years to come. That said, as the repository for the Treaty, Canada has responsibility for the management and oversight of the agreement. This puts added pressure on providers to ensure that the Canadian SAR response capacity in the Arctic is in line with our commitments, as our country will be held to the highest standards of accountability by other member states.
For the Arctic Council, the treaty is the first step towards increased cooperation among its members. While many issues remain for discussion, travelers and workers across the Arctic will now benefit from a coordinated approach to SAR which goes beyond political or social boundaries, to ensure the most effective and efficient rescue operations possible in one of the planet's most challenging regions.
Taking SAR to new heights
Parks Canada's Helicopter Rescue Program
In the Mountain National Parks of Alberta and British Columbia, during the busy rescue season from June to September, rescue crews are involved in operations on a daily basis. This can include everything from medical emergencies, injured hikers, searches for lost persons, water accidents, and technical mountain rescues. Due to the vast extent of the terrain in question and the small rescue crews, Parks Canada often uses light and intermediate helicopters provided by civilian operators to support many of these operations. This is efficient, cost effective, and allows for rapid SAR intervention.
This past summer was no exception as many Canadians followed the story of the "highest sling rescue in the history of the Mountain National Parks". While the story focussed on the incredible helicopter rescue of two climbers from the 3562 metre high summit of the South Goodsirs Tower in Yoho National Park, as is often the case media coverage made it appear as though the helicopter was just flying itself. The reality is that helicopter rescues like this one are only possible because of the exceptional piloting skills of veteran Alpine Helicopters Rescue Pilots like Lance Cooper – the pilot responsible for the sling rescue that day.
Although Parks Canada's SAR operations are led by skilled internationally certified mountain guides, helicopter rescue has become a key component of the Parks Canada SAR program and light and intermediate civilian helicopters have been used for mountain rescue operations since the 1970's. In fact, as the Canadian pioneer in the use of fixed line Class D operations, Parks Canada has more sling helicopter rescue experience than anyone in the country.
Over the years, this experience and expertise has been demonstrated in even higher sling rescue operations than this summer's rescue on South Goodsirs – albeit outside of the Mountain National Parks. In fact, Rescue Pilot Doug McKonnen completed a higher sling rescue on Mt. Logan in Kluane National Park, and pilots Todd McCready and Dale Brady accomplished other successful rescues on Mt. Robson in Robson Provincial Park – both at altitudes above 3562 metres.
While high altitude rescues are significant accomplishments, many pilots will tell you that with mountain rescues elevation is just a number. Helicopter rescues often face difficulties presented by high angle cliff faces, knife edged summit ridges, dense valley bottoms, forests and canyons. These can also be compounded by challenges of helicopter flight which can be impacted by elevation, available power, air temperature, visibility, and most importantly wind. In fact, sometimes elevation is the least challenging factor in a rescue and many difficult operations have been performed at elevations as low as 1500 metres in the parks.
As key members of any Parks Canada SAR crew, Rescue Pilots are selected for their skill and experience and undergo a rigorous screening and testing process that ensures their ability to perform under extreme conditions and intense pressures. They work an on-call schedule with various operators to provide the helicopter rescue service essential to the safety and wellbeing of millions of visitors to the National Parks. The 2011 roster of Mountain Rescue Pilots working with Parks Canada's SAR operations includes: Lance Cooper, Paul Maloney, Chris Robertson, Todd Cooper, Perry Hirsch, Don McTighe, Craig Ward, Matthew Callaghan, Clay Wilson, Dale Brady, Cathy Moore, and Doug Makkonen; who each and every day are ready to put their knowledge and experience into action to ensure the safe return of lost or injured visitors.
Facing and overcoming these challenges through experience, skill and commitment is what makes these pilots working with Parks Canada's Search and Rescue programme the true heroes of many successful search and rescue operations.
A first for international Arctic SAR
2011 Arctic SAR table top exercise
In the vast Arctic region, SAR operations are often challenged by extreme weather, geography and darkness. When a ship is transiting through the North and runs aground in Arctic waters, or an aircraft goes down, survivors are counting on the training and coordination of SAR responders to overcome these challenges and safeguard their lives. In such a remote region however, SAR operations can expand beyond political boundaries, facing the additional challenges of international cooperation and the complexity of sharing resources and skills.
The newly signed International Arctic SAR Treaty outlines the roles and responsibilities of Arctic Council member states in such cases, ensuring the most effective SAR response. Critical to the success of this treaty and of future operations are the opportunities for communication and discussions amongst front line SAR providers.
Following the signing of the Arctic SAR Treaty in May 2011, the Canadian Forces' Canada Command led the Arctic Council's first annual Arctic Search and Rescue tabletop exercise from October 4th to 6th of this year. Surrounded by stunning vistas, and offering visitors a northern setting in Whitehorse, YK, this was the first opportunity for SAR specialists from Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, and Sweden to meet and discuss the operational and strategic implications of the agreement. Recognizing their important role in SAR programs, Canada Command also invited representatives from a number of key federal departments and other stakeholders to observe the simulation exercise and participate in this important learning and knowledge sharing opportunity.
Bringing experience and expertise to real world scenarios, delegates participated in tabletop exercises, reviewing and responding to potential SAR events requiring international cooperation. Working together, delegates from the Treaty countries identified the challenges of coordinating international resources in the remote and harsh environment of the Arctic and developed plans to effectively overcome these obstacles. Throughout the simulation, delegations showcased their nation's capabilities, offering insight and sharing information and their experiences. They also discussed the challenges of Arctic SAR and identified areas for improved collaboration, cooperation and information sharing.
The Whitehorse tabletop event was an opportunity for SAR specialists from the Council's eight member countries to hold strategic discussions related to the challenges of aeronautical and marine Arctic SAR and identify opportunities for operational cooperation and coordination in responding to SAR events in the often hostile Arctic environment. Sharing knowledge and expertise will help ensure the success of future rescue operations as human activity continues to increase in the North.
Improved knowledge sharing, greater understanding and a commitment amongst international SAR specialists to work together to improve international Arctic SAR operations through continued cooperation and resource sharing. For those working, travelling and living in the Arctic –whether in Canada or internationally – the result is an added sense of security: knowing that in the event of a major incident north of 60, SAR responders will have access to additional resources and equipment they may require to effectively save lives.
Moving forward, exercises such as this one will offer an opportunity to continue sharing critical information and training, and improve planning and coordination for Arctic SAR operations. More importantly, they will encourage continued international collaboration which is critical to the success of the International Arctic SAR Agreement and future Arctic SAR missions.
Canadian SAR heads south
Canadian Forces SAR technicians head to Jamaica
Jamaica has stunning beaches, ocean breezes and a climate many Canadians long for in the middle of winter. Its geographical location also makes it a target for powerful and destructive hurricanes that often leave residents homeless, cut a path of damage in their wake, and leave the country struggling to recover.
The Jamaica Defense Fund (JDF) is responsible for search and rescue efforts on the island, and is tasked with providing evacuation, humanitarian operations, emergency medical care support and disaster relief. These can be enormous following a natural disaster but this year, a Canadian military Task Force is being deployed to provide them with additional support and resources.
Currently lacking aircraft – specifically helicopters – suitable for SAR and medical evacuation, Jamaica looked to the Canadian Forces for help in bridging their resource gap.
Following a request from Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding, Canada's Minister of National Defense Peter MacKay, announced that the Canadian Forces would deploy more than 65 aviation personnel and three CH-146 Griffon Tactical Utility helicopters, repainted SAR yellow and red, to Jamaica in support of the JDF throughout the hurricane season.
Task Force Jamaica – the first deployment under a new Canadian Forces initiative "Operation Jaguar" – will undertake critical life-saving activities both inland and over water in support of the JDF, providing expertise and technical support as required. They will also conduct training activities throughout their deployment to develop search and rescue aircrews for operations in Jamaica.
This deployment is anticipated to end once the JDF search and rescue capacity has been developed and aviation capabilities restored. It also confirms Canada's commitment to supporting Jamaica and recognizes the expertise of our SAR resources.