Background

With the increasing level of tourist and other activities in the Clayoquot Sound Region, Search and Rescue services are becoming more and more important. Until recently Ground Search and Rescue (SAR) response has been provided either by Port Alberni SAR or by Wardens from the National Park. Port Alberni SAR is at least 1.5 to 2 hours away and may not always be available. The Park Wardens have responsibilities in the National Park and cannot always be available for operations outside the park. The communities of the Clayoquot Sound Region are in an area of high risk for natural hazards (particularly earthquakes and tsunamis) and SAR teams that are well trained and adequately equipped can provide an invaluable resource during disaster response. The road connections to the coast are of particular concern.  Following an earthquake these would likely be made impassable for a substantial period of time and coastal communities would be required to provide their own response capability.

Five years ago the Westcoast Inland Search and Rescue Society (WISAR) was formed in Ucluelet in order to provide a local capacity for SAR response. WISAR is composed of a group of dedicated volunteers who are in the process of developing a local search and rescue capability for the Clayoquot Region. We depend on donations and other fund raising activities to support our operations. At present the society has limited equipment and facilities. We plan to ramp up our capabilities to provide a more complete set of ground SAR services.

Search and Rescue groups in British Columbia fall under the jurisdiction of the Provincial Emergency Program (PEP) which has rigorous requirements for training and certification. At present six members have the basic Ground Search and Rescue (GSAR) certification. Recently two of us completed an intensive training course in Campbell River as Ground Search Team Leaders (GSTL).

The Plan

To develop a Search and Rescue team with members and equipment in both Ucluelet and Tofino with the following characteristics:

  • Initially based in Ucluelet and Tofino with the potential for later expansion to other communities in the Clayoquot Reserve Region as needed.
  • Two strong Initial Response Teams.
  • Search Management capability.
  • Critical rescue skills provided as part of normal SAR activities and in support of Ambulance, Fire Department and Coastguard needs:
    • Rope Rescue Team with a focus on assisting other emergency services with embankment type rescues – for example associated with automotive accidents on highway 4 along the Upper Kennedy River, up beach cliffs and across rocky shores;
    • Shore rescue team with skills for operation in exposed coastal areas; and
  • Provision of support to Emergency Program Coordinators in Ucluelet and Tofino.
  • Strong communications capability.
  • All weather day and night response capability.
  • Highly mobile and flexible.
  • Low overhead.

Funding

WISAR activities are supported in a number of different ways:

  1. Funding for major equipment purchases has largely come from New Initiative Funds and Direct Access grants;
  2. Funding for special (expensive) training for such things as swift water operations and rescue and Incident Command System has come from NIF and Direct Access;
  3. Routine training for GSAR, rope rescue and tracking has been provided by volunteers in WISAR and other SAR groups;
  4. Operating costs have been funded by donations and grants from local government and local individuals and businesses.