Search and Rescue receives long-term funding

 | August 4, 2020

In a long-awaited announcement, the provincial government has pledged sustainable funding for search and rescue teams.

B.C. Search and Rescue Association (BCSARA) represents 79 search and rescue groups, altogether composed of over 2,500 volunteers, which assist in recovering lost and injured people in urban and backcountry areas across B.C.

Six million dollars of provincial funding annually will go to supporting BCSARA, beginning in the 2022/2023 fiscal year.

“This stable long-term funding that they’re going to be able to count on will help them be able to plan long-term, deal with the issues they’re facing, and know that we’re able to maintain the best search and rescue organisations anywhere in the country,” stated B.C. Minister of Public Safety, Mike Farnworth, following the announcement on July 21.

BCSARA’s local contingent, Kamloops Search and Rescue (KSAR) performs search and recovery efforts in the region, including around Sun Peaks.

KSAR president and search manager, Alan Hobler, said he is excited about the prospect of stable funding. 

“We’ve been hoping for this day for a while,” he said.

KSAR volunteers teaming up with Sun Peaks Resort staff in an avalanche response training scenario in 2019. 

In 2015, BCSARA was approved for government funding over three years, but then was initially overlooked in the 2019 provincial budget. Uncertainty ensued as the expiry of BCSARA’s funding loomed and the government scrambled to include it in a last-minute budget revision.

Such sporadic funding meant KSAR, like other search and rescue teams, relied on other funds derived from grant applications, fundraising and public donations.

“We’re still going to be doing some of that as well, but now with some significant funding coming in, we are now able to budget for this funding and actually develop some programs going forward, knowing that the funding is going to be here to support those programs,” Hobler said.

These programs include KSAR’s rope rescue and swift water rescue specialty teams, which require extensive training and regular equipment replacement in order to ensure responder and patient safety.

“[Previously] when we were doing sporadic purchases for equipment, we wouldn’t know if we would be able to find funding to replace that equipment when it needed to be replaced,” Hobler explained.

The government’s funding announcement comes amid a spike in search and rescue responses across the province following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions and heightened activity in backcountry areas.

KSAR members train in their current space. Photo supplied

This trend has been seen in the Kamloops area too, though it hasn’t been drastic, according to Hobler.

“Now that a lot of those restrictions have been lifted, we’ve certainly seen a little bit of a spike in our call-outs, but it still is an average year for us in terms of call volume,” he said.

Nevertheless, outdoor recreationalists are reminded to take care on trails and be prepared.

“Funding is only one way to show our support. Search and rescue volunteers take a risk every time they go out to rescue someone, and that risk is heightened due to COVID-19. I’m calling on all British Columbians to be safe and to make sure your family, friends and neighbours are being safe, so we can reduce the risks for everyone,” Farnsworth said.