Feds bolster Yukon search and rescue

The Yukon’s search-and-rescue volunteers are getting a $768,000 cash injection from the federal government. The money will be used to turn some oversized sea containers into temporary equipment sheds for the volunteer organizations.

The Yukon’s search-and-rescue volunteers are getting a $768,000 cash injection from the federal government.

The money will be used to turn some oversized sea containers into temporary equipment sheds for the volunteer organizations.

“We’ve always borrowed spare space from fire halls for the truck, or a wildland fire base to park the boat, or somebody’s house to store gear and in a lot of cases the equipment was never in one spot so when the RCMP called them and asked for help that they could go to and grab equipment,” said Michael Templeton, the manager for the Emergency Measures Organization.

Search-and-rescue efforts in the Yukon – unless it’s in a national park, on the sea, or the result of a plane crash – are the responsibility of the RCMP.

Emergency Measures, which falls under the Department of Community Services, helps fund and equip the territory’s civilian search-and-rescue teams that work with police.

“We’re looking to buy seven of these (sea containers) and have them delivered to the Yukon and installed within the communities, said Templeton.

Some of the money will also be used to outfit two donated ambulances with communications equipment, turning them into mobile command posts.

The federal government has been on a search-and-rescue funding blitz after the auditor general released a report earlier this month detailing the sorry state of Canada’s search-and-rescue system.

Michael Ferguson’s report expressed concerns that a shortage of qualified personnel was hampering the Air Force’s capacity to respond to emergencies across the Canada’s vast geography.

But that’s not the only problem.

“In addition to personnel shortages, there have not been enough aircraft available for training air crews,” stated the report.

The government has been looking to replace its aging fleet of Buffalo and Hercules aircraft since 2002.

It’s a process that has been mired in controversy.

A 2010 National Research Council report backed up the allegations that the Defence Department had rigged the bid in favor of the Italian-made C-27J Spartan. It called for the tender to be rewritten.

The project to replace the search-and-rescue aircraft “remains a high priority,” stated the Department of Defense in response to the auditor general’s report.

In addition to several policy changes, the department has also committed to putting $15 million towards a new mid-Earth-orbit search-and-rescue satellite and to continue the life of its existing low-Earth-orbit satellite.

“Taken together, our government is demonstrating its commitment to building capacity and strengthening search-and-rescue response and prevention, across all levels of government and first responders, to better our ability to save lives,” said Defence Minister Peter MacKay in a release.

But more could still be done, said Sara French, the program manager for arctic security for the Walter & Duncan Gordon Foundation.

“When we look at how Canada stacks up against our circumpolar neighbours, we definitely do not have the same assets,” she said. “There are no search-and-rescue bases located in the North.”

All of the search-and-rescue aircraft that service the Yukon are flown out of CFB Comox on Vancouver Island.

Canada is also the only Arctic nation that doesn’t have a deepwater port along its northern coast.

With 162,000 kilometres of Arctic coastline there is a significant amount of concern about increased shipping along the northern coast and our ability to respond to incidents that would occur in that area, said French.

This week Canada takes over as the chair of the Arctic Council.

“The world is really going to be looking for Canada’s leadership in the North over the next two years, and I think one way to show that leadership is to support implementation of agreements made at the Arctic Council, primarily the agreement on aeronautical and maritime search and rescue, by making sure that we have the systems here at home that are able to support those international agreements.”

Contact Josh Kerr at joshk@yukon-news.com

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