Uncertainty around funding for Search and Rescue

Kamloops Search and Rescue complete a tracking exercise. Photo supplied

Recent budget announcements have left B.C. Search and Rescue (SAR) groups unsure whether they will receive funding this year. Left unresolved, a cut to funding could affect how the volunteer organization responds to emergencies.

The B.C. Search and Rescue Association (BCSARA) represents 80 recognized ground search and rescue groups across the province, consisting of 2,500 volunteers in total. In 2015 it was approved a budget of $15 million to spend over three years. This year the BCSARA board hoped for $6 million in annual funding.

The push for an increase to funds was necessary, according to Kamloops Search and Rescue (KSAR) media spokesperson, Jennifer Stahn.

“Everybody’s heating costs are more, our fuel costs are more, our teams are growing because we’re getting busier,” she said. “There’s a lot of costs involved in search and rescue and they just seem to increase.”

But when the provincial government announced its proposed budget on Feb. 19, BCSARA was not mentioned, sparking concerns that no funds at all have been set aside for the organization.

At time of print, no separate announcement had been made regarding funds for BCSARA for the upcoming fiscal year. The organization’s current funding will cease on March 31.
Without an update to the current situation, basic funding for SAR incident response will remain guaranteed by the province.

However, everyday operational costs, like equipment and facilities maintenance, as well as specialized training and certification of volunteers, will no longer be covered. This means the KSAR canine, swift water, ice and rope rescue teams could be in jeopardy.

“It wouldn’t take that long for the costs to start mounting so that our team just isn’t able to keep up with the level of training that we require in order to do our jobs,” Stahn said.

A reduction in specialized training will affect the efficiency of SAR response in the local area, as well as across the province, in which SAR groups are tasked with over 1,700 events each year.

It could also impact SAR membership, with specialty training often a draw for new applicants, according to Stahn.

Provincial funds also currently cover the costs of running the public education program, AdventureSmart, and the peer support Critical Incident Stress Management program for SAR volunteers.

Without provincial funding, alternative sources of financial support are limited. Grants and donations are helpful, Stahn said, but they cannot be guaranteed, and at best only offset some training costs.

Fundraising is not viable on a large-enough scale either, she added.

“Our volunteers are putting so much into training and tasks alone…so that to fundraise as well would be really difficult.”

Despite this, BCSARA maintains it won’t charge individuals who are rescued, on the premise this could deter people from calling when they need help.

BCSARA is hoping the government comes to a solution before March 31, one with a stable, long-term outlook.

“The funding would help alleviate a lot of pressures off the volunteer-driven associations and would allow all of us to focus on what really needs to be focused on, which is the training in order to be able to search and rescue,” Stahn said.