The Kitikmeot SAR System

Photo courtesy of Peter Kikkert.

Community-based groups such as the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary, Ground Search and Rescue (GSAR), Marine SAR Societies, Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA), and Canadian Rangers are the foundation of the Kitikmeot’s SAR system.

Each community in the Kitikmeot has an all-volunteer GSAR team, often supported by a formal SAR Committee. All of the Kitikmeot community SAR groups have been registered as non-profit societies under Nunavut’s Societies Act to facilitate fundraising efforts and financial support from Nunavut Emergency Management (NEM), although the administrative requirements have made it difficult for many of them to consistently maintain this status. While team members volunteer their time and generally use personal equipment, Nunavut Emergency Management provides funding to cover expenses such as training, fuel, lubricants, emergency supplies, food, and equipment repair. NEM orchestrates GSAR training opportunities through the Nunavut Municipal Training Organization, providing a basic SAR course and a coordinator course. Volunteer community SAR coordinators assist with arranging training opportunities, organizing searchers, and coordinating with NEM. A SAR tasking usually begins in the community when someone on the GSAR team is told of a missing person or party and they report the case to NEM. If a person in need of assistance is using one of the SPOT devices that NEM had provided to each community, however, the initial notification will go to the NEM personnel on duty and they will contact the local SAR team to activate a search.

In the Kitikmeot, marine SAR is carried out by Coast Guard Auxiliary units in Cambridge Bay, Kugluktuk, and Gjoa Haven, and facilitated by the SAR Committees in Taloyoak and Kugaaruk. Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary units are made up of local volunteers who use their own vessels or a community vessel to respond to emergencies. Members of the auxiliary receive specialized training, insurance coverage and reimbursement of certain operational costs, but often must fundraise to purchase additional required equipment (e.g. Personal Flotation Devices, GPS, Radios). The Coast Guard has also transferred surplus assets to several Arctic units (e.g. it transferred a 17-foot Boston Whaler and 90 HP outboard motor to the Cambridge Bay Auxiliary in 2014). Authorization to respond to SAR tasking activities in the Kitikmeot generally comes from the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre Trenton, although the RCMP can also authorize a tasking if required. While Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk have long-established Auxiliary units, Gjoa Haven’s was only stood-up in 2017 as part of the federal government’s Oceans Protection Plan (OPP) which seeks to expand the CGA throughout the Arctic. The groundwork to establish a unit in Taloyoak has been ongoing and it should be operational in the immediate future. The focus of the OPP on improving marine safety in the Arctic has also led to new training and equipment opportunities for Auxiliary units in the Kitikmeot. Through the Indigenous Community Boat Volunteer Pilot Program, Cambridge Bay ($270,311), Gjoa Haven ($222,187), and Kugluktuk ($246,417) have been able to purchase new SAR boats and related equipment.

Gjoa Haven Coast Guard Auxiliary SAR boat. Photo courtesy of Winnie Hatkaittuq.

Each Kitikmeot community also has an active Canadian Ranger patrol that can be called up to assist with SAR both as volunteers who know how to work effectively as a group and, when called upon, as an official military tasking for which they are paid. Some of the training provided to the Rangers by the Canadian Armed Forces is directly related to their SAR capabilities: GPS skills, constructing austere airstrips on the land and ice, effective communications, First Aid, and Wilderness First (although the latter has not been offered on a regular basis to the patrols in the Kitikmeot). Ranger patrols often practice their SAR skills during training exercises, which often involve simulated searches. More generally, patrols are taught how to work together as a cohesive unit, which can be a valuable skillset during a search. Each patrol is also issued, on average, two satellite (SAT) phones and two Track 24 devices (an Iridium satellite system that facilitates the monitoring and tracking of on the land movements). Rangers are encouraged to use both pieces of equipment during searches.

Kugluktuk Canadian Ranger Patrol. Photo courtesy of MCpl Baba Pedersen.

Civilian Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA) volunteers have also been trained in Gjoa Haven and Cambridge Bay. CASARA is a non-profit national volunteer organization funded by the Department of National Defence. Across the country, CASARA volunteers consist of private aircraft owners and pilots, ground crew, navigators, and trained spotters (air observers) who provide air search support to Canada’s SAR system. CASARA spotters in Gjoa Haven and Cambridge Bay are trained to observe from chartered Twin Otters and other local private aircraft, as well as from a Royal Canadian Air Force Hercules (CC-130). They are expected to spot objects half a mile away from a height of 500 feet, one mile away from 1,000 feet up, and two miles away from 1,500 feet.

CASARA – Civil Air Search & Rescue Association

In 2016, a new group emerged on the Kitikmeot SAR scene: the Gjoa Haven Guardians. Inuit community members on the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee suggested the creation of an Inuit Guardians program to protect and monitor the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site. From the end of July to freeze-up, Guardians camp near the sites to safeguard the ships and the environment, and they notify vessels that get too close to the protected waters. While on-site, the Guardians also facilitate research, conservation, and tourism activities, and offer an emergency response capability to any accidents or SAR activities that occur in the surrounding area. As the number of visitors travelling to the Franklin ships increases, the SAR responsibilities of the Guardians may grow accordingly.

Canadian Rangers approaching a Twin Otter. Photo courtesy of P. Whitney Lackenbauer.

Community-based SAR organizations in the Kitikmeot have drawn upon a range of other local assets in previous searches, including aircraft servicing private industry and the North Warning System (NWS), volunteer fire department personnel, hamlet offices, and the RCMP. They also work with a range of federal agencies, particularly the Canadian Coast Guard and the Canadian Armed Forces.

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