Preventative SAR

A warning sign that the Kugluktuk GSAR team put up at the community’s gas station – which is usually the last place people go before they head out on the land.

“Education and prevention are vital,” a community SAR coordinator emphasized. “This should be a big part of what we do…With climate change and bad ice, machines are getting damaged and more people are getting hurt and getting lost. Even with the most experienced people things happen. If people know how to survive they can. They just need the knowledge and education.” Community members must be educated on how to move and work on the land, the dangers of going out unprepared, and, if they do run into trouble, how to respond. Community responders highlight the need to start teaching community members how to survive on the land at an early age. The more traditional skills and SAR training that can be provided in the elementary and high schools, the less strain for a community’s SAR system.

Kugluktuk’s GSAR coordinator and unit leader Jack Himiak highlighted the success that his organization had with prevention and education. Members of his team visit the schools and talk to youth whenever they can. They explain to students what they need when they go out on the water or on the land. They tell them what to look out for and be aware of when they are out. They also teach the kids to observe who is leaving the community, to track the direction they are going, and to note the equipment that they are taking with them. In one SAR case, two kids had watched their uncles go out on the land, so they reported to the GSAR team what their relatives were wearing, driving, and where they were going. Himiak also emphasized the value of a sign that the GSAR team put up at the community’s gas station – which is usually the last place people go before they head out on the land. The sign tells people to be prepared, to complete a trip plan, be aware of ice and weather conditions, take emergency supplies, and, if they become lost, to “stop, sit, think, observe, plan,” and not leave their machines.

All of the communities except for Cambridge Bay (which has a cadet corps) have Junior Canadian Ranger patrols, and the Kitikmeot Roundtable on SAR participants all highlighted the benefits of the youth program in transmitting traditional skills and teaching youth to be prepared when they go on the land. The adult committees in each community, which oversee JCR activities, should include Rangers, GSAR members, and Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Community responders highlighted the positive impact of Nunavut Emergency Management’s SPOT program. If people have these devices with them on the land, they can more readily “take the search out of SAR.” Kitikmeot Roundtable on SAR participants pointed out, however, that Hunters and Trappers Organizations (HTOs) and Nunavut Emergency Management have to publicize the SPOT programs more extensively so that community members know that they can borrow these devices free of charge.

Community SAR organizations need to provide consistent messaging about preparation. “It’s all about persistence,” one participant explained. “We have to keep on telling people every chance we get, on Facebook [and] on the community radio.”

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