Expand NEM’s Garmin InReach Program

In early 2020, NEM launched a new SAR program that addresses some of the training and equipment issues identified by community responders. Integrating feedback from Nunavummiut, NEM worked with Arctic Response Canada to “Nunavutize” the territory’s basic and coordinator GSAR courses, focusing on the specific environmental and geographical characteristics of each community and incorporating community-specific Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit. NEM is also working with Nunavummiut to produce a set of “Go Bags” containing necessities that GSAR teams can access during SAR operations to supplement their personal equipment and resources.

The new SAR courses include training on how to use Garmin inReach devices, which one community participant extolled as “a SAR game changer.” These devices act as GPS, emergency beacon, and as a two-way communicator, allowing the user to send and receive text messages and emails – a pivotal function during a search. Every message includes location data, allowing a command post (or friends and family) to monitor a searcher’s progress. During searches, GSAR teams are generally separated into pairs, with one responsible for keeping track of the time, regularly checking in with the SAR command post via the text function on the inReach, and using the device to monitor weather reports, while the other focuses on looking for tracks or other signs of the missing person. At the command post, SAR coordinators can use laptops to keep track of where all the teams are operating and where they have searched. If a team wishes, its members can share their link and allow community members to track their search online or via Facebook. Project participants emphasized that the devices improve the safety, coordination, and effectiveness of search and rescue operations.  

InReach data showing the tracks of a search party involved in the search for a missing hunting party outside Gjoa Haven between 9 and 11 June 2020. The flags in the second image mark the tracking points transmitted by the inReach device. During this period, this device sent and received over 100 coordinating and information sharing text messages.

At the end of basic GSAR training, NEM provides each community team with one inReach device. While the number of GSAR members deployed on searches depends on the community and situation, generally between six and eight searchers are sent out in pairs. Accordingly, a GSAR team would operate most effectively if provided a minimum of four inReach devices (to maximize their impact, units could be provided to community responders who serve in GSAR and the Coast Guard Auxiliary). The purchase of three new units (to combine with the one issued by NEM) for each of Nunavut’s 25 communities would cost approximately $44,249.25, with the monthly subscription for all devices coming in at $7,995. While this represents a significant cost, such an investment would fit well with the Arctic and Northern Policy Framework promise to improve whole-of-society emergency management and SAR (given the devices’ utility in marine disasters, mass rescue operations, and other community emergencies).

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