“Because people in these groups often know one another and there is usually a lot of crossover between them with all the hats people wear, there might be an idea that they can work together no problem. But in an emergency, when groups have different ways of communicating, different ways of doing things, different mandates from the South, we can quickly run into trouble. We need to practice cooperating. We need to practice working together. And it’s not just SAR – think about helpful this would be during other emergencies that we might face in the community.”Community Responder, Kitikmeot SAR.
Community groups need to be able to cooperate, coordinate, and communicate with one another at the community-level, but also with territorial and federal responders. SAR depends upon a system of systems approach, requiring that different components work together seamlessly.
Challenges start within individual community organizations, where groups often lack clear plans and procedures that provide contact information, lay out the competencies and responsibilities of group members, and identify steps to be taken before, during, and after a search.
Coordination and cooperation between groups remains informal and often limited at the community-level. Coast Guard Auxiliary, GSAR, Rangers, CASARA, and other groups in the community need to be able to work together as effectively as possible. In scenarios such as a prolonged shoreline search, CCGA, GSAR teams, Rangers, and CASARA volunteers may need to work together. Without opportunities for joint training and exercises beforehand, trying to coordinate the various elements of the local SAR system in a high-pressure, time-sensitive situation can be stressful and detract from efficiency of effort.
Challenges also arise when the entire system of systems – community groups, Nunavut Emergency Management, Joint Rescue Coordination Centre, Coast Guard and Canadian Armed Forces responders, and private industry – needs to coordinate its efforts. Federal and territorial officials often have inadequate knowledge of the capabilities or limitations of community-based SAR organizations.
Changes in the staffing at Nunavut Emergency Management, Canadian Coast Guard, and other southern agencies means that when you are able to develop a good relationship with an individual contact, it might not last long. Constantly dealing with new people – whether trainers, administrators, or those involved in SAR missions – disrupts continuity and can inhibit SAR operations.
Kitikmeot Roundtable on SAR participants also pointed out that some community responders find it challenging to speak effectively to and to understand southern SAR partners, given specialized jargon (particularly in interactions with the military and JRCC). Many community responders refer to geographical features in Inuinnaqtun and Inuktitut, thus providing information unintelligible to JRCC personnel who reply upon English-language maps. This indicates a need to better integrate Indigenous languages in the SAR framework.
Furthermore, community groups, JRCC, and NEM have all noted difficulties in engaging private industry, particularly when tracking down private aircraft to participate in a search, identifying assets in an area, and determining who to contact to access them.
At the community-level, coordination issues and safety problems are also created when friends and family of missing people go out to search without consulting with the community SAR organizations, and do not relay where or how they are searching. It is good that they want to go out – especially in the early stages before NEM launches an official public search. However, constant communication and coordination between everyone involved in a search is essential. People going out on their own, without communicating their plans, wastes time and effort. When SAR teams conduct their searches, they also have to worry about untrained people also searching who might themselves require assistance on the land. “We need to educate community members on the dangers of this and how they can help from inside the community,” one participant at the Kitikmeot Roundtable on SAR 2020 emphasized. “We don’t want to have to rescue the rescuers.” If community SAR organizations put out the call for additional volunteers, all responders must be prepared to work as a group and follow direction.
Facebook and other forms of social media can be helpful for coordination and information-sharing – they can provide info about missing persons and provide a platform to share tips about where to look for them. At the same time, social media often leads to the spread of false information – both about missing persons and about the efforts of community searchers. Social media can also be a source of criticism for community SAR responders, which can have a devastating impact on morale.
Suggestions and Solutions
- To improve coordination, communication, and cooperation at every level, community participants highlighted the importance of sustained relationship-building to foster trust and collaboration.
- Opportunities to practice more with southern organizations, particularly the JRCC, would be helpful.
- It would be highly beneficial to track who has what training in a community. Community groups often struggle to track the competencies of their own members. Furthermore, a GSAR team would benefit from knowing who in the Rangers has current training in competencies like wilderness first aid and airstrip construction, or who in the Coast Guard Auxiliary has radio operator training. This information could also be inserted in community emergency plans.
- Community SAR organizations need to have clear plans and procedures that lay out the steps taken during a search, complete with the contact information of all individuals and territorial/federal agencies involved (knowing how to contact Nunavut Emergency Management and the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre is vital). These SAR cards should be made available to community members and distributed to all groups, agencies, and departments involved in a search.
- SAR cards should also track the skills, training, equipment, and competencies possessed by community responders – this information could also be reflected in community emergency plans.
- Regular training, meetings, and exercises to facilitate cooperation and coordination between community groups and their federal and territorial partners.
- Federal and territorial agencies responsible for providing training to community-based groups should seek to synchronize training schedules and share information on local capabilities.