Equipment Shortages

Gjoa Haven Coast Guard Auxiliary Vessel. Photo courtesy of Winnie Hatkaittuq.

GSAR teams in the Kitikmeot generally use their own equipment and resources to respond to SAR cases. At times, there may only be a few members of a GSAR team or SAR Committee that have the necessary equipment and supplies to safely conduct a search. While NEM can provide reimbursement if a searcher can prove that their machine was damaged during a search, there is no compensation for regular wear and tear on equipment (despite the rough terrain and seascapes in which they operate). While each community has different equipment requirements, community practitioners point to the common need for snowmachines, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), boats, survival gear, and camp supplies.On rare occasions in the past, territorial and federal agencies have donated surplus equipment to select community SAR organizations or created memorandums of understanding allowing for equipment to be shared during emergencies.

Given that they are providing an essential public safety service on a volunteer-basis with little support, community volunteers argue that they should be given greater access to the equipment they require. One responder noted that “you would never send a firefighter out to fight a fire with bad equipment or without any protective gear, yet we are asked to do this when doing searches on the land? Is this not also dangerous work.”

A longstanding source of concern in the Kitikmeot was the lack of marine vessels capable of going out on searches. Community responders highlighted several examples of marine searches conducted using faulty vessels. Through the Indigenous Community Boat Volunteer Program, Cambridge Bay ($270,311), Gjoa Haven ($222,187), and Kugluktuk ($246,417) have been able to purchase new SAR boats and related equipment – a program that Taloyoak and Kugaaruk also hope to benefit from.

“The federal government just gave the Coast Guard Auxiliary units in the Kitikmeot brand new SAR boats and equipment, at a cost well over $200,000 a piece. That’s great program. I’m a member of the Auxiliary and it has had a huge impact. But, what about GSAR? If the reason for the new boats is that communities don’t always have safe equipment, that more outside boats are coming in, that more marine SARs will happen, couldn’t the same be said about GSAR? What about those Norwegian tourists between Cam Bay and Gjoa? Volunteer GSAR rescued them. What if they had died out there on the ice – that would not be a good result for Canada. We have to stop treating the ice differently than the water. What I’m saying is that if the Coast Guard can buy new boats for the Auxiliary, can’t the feds provide funding for GSAR equipment, so we don’t use our own?”

Community Participant, Kitikmeot Roundtable on SAR 2020

Suggestions and Solutions

  • Create memorandums of understanding between community groups and the RCMP and/or federal/territorial agencies for use of snowmachines and other equipment.
  • Explore the possibility of providing each community with two snowmachines and two ATVs for SAR.
  • Other searchers said that they prefer to take their own, familiar machine out on the land, and that a better solution might be to establish an equipment fund that people could draw upon to buy their own equipment which could be used for SAR missions as well.
  • Determine a way to properly compensate community members for the use of their private equipment and vehicles during searches.
  • Large SAR maps should be given to community groups to help plan and execute searches. These maps should be of different scales, some focused on the 100 km around each community, and others covering the area between communities. All maps should be sufficiently detailed to meet the needs of search teams.
  • NEM should provide GSAR teams with dry suits for the shoulder seasons when most of the searchers occur.
  • SAR teams should have caribou skin clothing.
  • Standardized radios between groups.
  • Each community GSAR team should be provided with at least four (4) Garmin inReach devices to provide to pairs that are deploying on the land.
  • Each community should have a dedicated SAR building where they can store supplies, equipment, and fuel, hold meetings, and which can serve as a command post during SAR missions.

“My community doesn’t have enough satellite phones, or a place to keep equipment, or enough equipment. I’ve been living in here for 20 years, have had lack of ATV, boats, snowmobiles, skidoos, equipment and volunteers for years. We need help. SAR always running out of money. Fundraising can’t get enough. Me and my husband are the only ones who try to find volunteers to search for others, and it can be hard sometimes. In the old days, they didn’t wait for anything, not tasking number or anything, they just went. Now we need to buy things, we need paperwork and it’s too time consuming when lives are on the line. These are our families. Every minute, every second is precious when someone is in danger.”

Community Participant, Kitikmeot Roundtable on SAR 2020
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