Our View: Long-term funds needed for SARs

Okanagan Search and Rescue operations need funds to support valiant efforts of volunteer search crews.

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

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 same could be said of the Central Okanagan Search and Rescue based out of Kelowna.

The North Okanagan, 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, B.C.’s 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 the units which have largely been left covering the costs of their own 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.