Secure funding needed for SAR

North Okanagan-Shuswap residents have come to expect that local search and rescue members will drop everything during an emergency.

North Okanagan-Shuswap residents have come to expect that members of Vernon and Shuswap Search and Rescue (SAR) will drop everything during an emergency.

Many of the most recent rescues have taken place in recreation areas, like Owl Head in Sicamous and Crowfoot Mountain in North Shuswap, which are very popular with sledders – both residents and tourists.

But imagine what would happen if the volunteer unit wasn’t there?

Who would spend hours looking for lost snowmobilers in the backcountry? Who would help look for a missing child or someone who fell off a boat? Who would help the RCMP gather vital evidence during a case?

The reality is that the North Okanagan-Shuswap, and communities across the province, benefit directly because of the civic-minded spirit of SAR volunteers.

“Within ground  search and rescue there are roughly 100,000 hours of volunteer time  donated to searches (provincewide). To replace these would cost more than $5 million annually in direct salary dollars,” said Todd Stone, transportation minister.

That’s why the government’s announcement of $10 million for SAR training, administrative support and equipment upgrades is welcome news.

It will take considerable pressure off of the units who have largely been left covering the cost of their activities.

Instead of fundraising, more time can be directed towards training and ensuring equipment is in top condition.

However, while Victoria’s assistance is positive, it’s only one-time support. Yes, it’s $10 million but it won’t go far among 80 units, particularly given the expense of equipment.

As Stone pointed out, the SAR volunteers save all of us about $5 million a year. If we had to pay staff for search duties, it’s unlikely the service would exist.

One-off funding is great but more needs to be done to ensure the long-term viability of our search and rescue teams.

-Vernon Morning Star