The British Columbia wilderness is one of the most beautiful places anywhere to explore and tens of thousands of people do so every year.
Unfortunately hundreds of them end up in trouble due to accidents, lack of preparation, and unforeseen events.
The most challenging rescues are often in the news and while search and rescue (SAR) workers continue to spread the word that they support exploration of the backcountry they also want people to realize they must be prepared.
According to the latest Provincial Emergency Program Ground Search and Rescue Report (2004/05) SAR responded to 984 calls in the province.
While the majority were rescued – most within 24 hours – 61 missing people were found dead, and 53 were not found at all. Overall the province’s operational costs for SAR were $1,535,240 in 2004/05.
For the majority of the last 15 years the numbers of rescues have gone up and this past year is no exception said acting deputy director of PEP Jim McAllister.
In all there were 1,021 calls for rescue in 2004-2005. The financial costs won’t be available until this fall; however, McAllister expects this year to have less since last year was characterized by long and difficult searches, including a female mushroom picker missing in the Alexis Creek for eight days, an overdue hiker missing in Whistler for five days and an 83-year-old woman missing at Kelly Lake for nine days.
"We do expect it to be lower but we won’t know until everything is tabulated," said McAllister.
Hundreds of SAR volunteers also logged over 20,000 hours during operation Firestorm in 2003, when wild fires raged across B.C. It was the largest integrated response of emergency agencies in the history of the province.
Search and Rescue is one of five Public Safety Lifeline Volunteers services in the province, along with Emergency Social Services, road rescue, PEP air and amateur radio.
There are about 4,700 registered volunteers organized into 93 provincial Search and Rescue teams and seven Initial Response Teams. They support numerous agencies across the province, including the police in searching for lost persons; B.C. Ambulance Service in accessing and transporting injured persons where specialized skills are required; the coroners’ office with the recovery of deceased victims where special skills are needed; Department of National Defence and Canadian Coast Guard for air and marine search and rescue; and local governments during civil emergencies.
In all there are about 13,000 volunteers involved in B.C.’s Public Safety Lifeline. Without doubt, said McAllister, they are the heart and soul of PEP’s success.
In B.C. the model for ground searches is a little different that in some other jurisdictions, said McAllister.