Special to the Morning Star
Without a small army of 2,500 volunteers and the $6.3 million that the Province spends to fund their searches, the lost might not be found in B.C.’s backcountry.
Since April, there have been 130 more calls for rescue from throughout the province compared to the same time period last year – that creates a taxing situation on the volunteer teams and to the B.C. taxpayer who, through the province, pays 100 per cent of the costs for their searches.
Rightfully, there are calls to action by outraged British Columbians who are frustrated that some of these rescues are required only because of poor planning or lack of experience, causing undue strain and drain on local and provincial resources – I share that frustration.
As a trail runner I have seen and cautioned casual hikers, like the one I met in three-inch heels and a red cocktail dress, that embark on hikes without properly preparing – often without the obvious and bare minimum like water, food, flashlights and proper attire.
B.C.’s backcountry is full of opportunities, but it is not a playground for carelessness; there can be consequences, not the least of which are felt by the selfless and dedicated folks that leave the warmth of home, forego free time with their families to seek and find those that are lost, often throughout the dark of night, only to launch back into their day-jobs the very next morning, sleep deprived.
We recognize that these volunteers are a valued safety net and purposely, because of their importance, the province is providing the broadest level of support and the most amount of money annually that the B.C. Search and Rescue program has ever received.
This government has made supporting search and rescue a priority. We fund 100 per cent of their operational deployment costs, including the cost of every helicopter flown, every band aid applied, every meal and even the mileage costs for volunteers. We pay for their liability and worker compensation insurance, help provide training and equipment, and help offset administrative costs to free them up for more time on the ground.
We recognize the challenges these Search and Rescue teams face and that’s why the province is working closely with the B.C. Search and Rescue Association to explore an alternate model for funding support.
Make no mistake. We’re on the same team and working for the same solutions, and we share many of the same frustrations.
We recognize their challenges and fundamentally agree that changes must take place to ensure the sustainability of the search and rescue program, but a different model of funding support and recruitment is only half the solution, the other half is just as critical and it’s about personal responsibility by the recreationalist to adequately prepare before heading into B.C.’s beautiful backcountry to avoid putting yourself in jeopardy.
Never hike alone. Leave a message with someone on your destination, route and anticipated return time.
Be prepared for the elements with proper hiking and contingency gear like extra layers of clothing, a shelter and something to start a fire with for warmth overnight.
Bring water – hydration is not only critical during your hike but to sustain you if you get lost.
Be aware of how far you’ve gone and when you need to turn back to avoid hiking in the dark – always carry a flashlight just in case.
If you become lost, don’t keep moving. Stay put and wait for help; don’t presume downhill will get you back on track, downhill can lead you into dangerous terrain. Carry a signaling device like a whistle so searchers can find you even if they can’t see you.
Carry communication and navigation devices, like a cell phone with a full charge, a personal locator beacon, compass or GPS unit.
Naomi Yamamoto is the minister of state for emergency preparedness.