Search and Rescue (SAR) in Canada is in need of reform and investment if the service is to be there for those in need. SAR is an essential service the Canadian Forces provide civilians and is as important as fire, paramedic and police services. The current lack of resources, public awareness and transformation puts many lives and elements of the Canadian economy at risk. Fishing, tourism, aviation, shipping industries and traditional Aboriginal lifestyles rely on the brave SARtechs descending to the rescue.
Many short sighted cuts and lack of geographical understanding leave great areas of Canadian territory uncovered. It can take 18 hours to get a helicopter from Kingston Ontario to the Arctic circle. Some areas of the Arctic can not be covered in enough time to make a difference. The Atlantic also has gaps in coverage as foes the Pacific and Great Lakes. Transforming the system to give adequate coverage will cost more than the current system, yet going with the status quo will cost lives and economic potential.
My solution is to transform the Royal Canadian Airforce Search and Recue component into a separate airforce division. Eight squadrons in four wings should cover the country adequately. Each wing headquarters would also be the regional SAR coordination centre with squadron headquarters acting as local centres. The division headquarters would serve as national rescue centre and cover the training and maintenance requirements. Embedded at all levels will be; Transport Canada, Coast Guard, police, fire, medical and anyone else required. Headquarters will be kept loose and flexible to achieve maximum response to calls.
Each squadron would have a mix of aircraft based on the area it covers. They would also be a mixture of regular and reserve Airforce personnel. The Pacific wing would include Comox and Prince Rupert and have planes/helicopters capable of going out to sea and working in the Rockies. The Arctic Wing based in Yellowknife and Iqaluit would have cold weather aircraft with skis and ability to fly in rough winter weather. Gander and Shearwater would host the Atlantic Wing and work with the offshore oil industry to practice rescuing rig workers. For the Great Lakes and surrounding areas Winnipeg and Trenton will give good coverage. The above bases should give enough overlap to have Canada covered.
Again redeploying people, especially to some remote parts of the country, will cost money. New aircraft will also be needed, some of the existing designs are ill suited to the role of Search and Rescue. Some of the current aircraft such as Twin Otters and Buffalos are the best fit for the job and need to be replaced by newer models with latest sensors that pass extensive testing. All aircraft should be rugged, all weather and easily maintained in the field, they should also be capable of a high tempo of operations. Hanger/depot divas only belong in museums and will cost lives if put into service. Helicopters will be needed to replace the current ill suited designs.
Search and Rescue reform is past due and should be part of a greater transformation of the Canadian Forces. More careful study of Canadian geography and needs may be required to optimize the SAR coverage so all of Canada can have efficient response times. Parliament should over see such a review.
A memorial to lost Search and Rescue personel should be built in Ottawa to commemorate all those lost. Setting aside a day each year to remember all those lost in rescue missions, Canadian Forces or otherwise, would help promote awareness.