Search and Rescue groups across the province breathed a sigh of relief following the announcement that the provincial government will once again fund their operations.
However, BC Search and Rescue Association (BCSARA) Northwest Region director Mike Stekelenburg said the $18.6-million in funding for the Association will only last for three years.
Before the funding runs out again, BCSARA and Emergency Management BC (EMBC) will have to have developed an Alternate Support Model (ASM), looking into ensuring the long-term sustainability of government funding.
“BCSARA and EMBC have a mandate to get the ASM finalized as soon as possible so that we can secure long-term funding as part of the annual B.C. government budget,” said Stekelenburg.
He said once the ASM is finalized, it will provide funding for operations (insurance and vehicle maintenance), training and equipment purchases.
“That funding would be permanently embedded in the annual provincial government budget. For capital expenditure we would still be able to apply for gaming grants,” he added.
Prior to the provincial government agreeing to fund BCSARA teams across the province, the 80 teams kept search and rescue operations going through fundraising drives.
“The Banff Mountain film festival was one that paid off for us. We did not have dollars to purchase a command vehicle or other expensive equipment, even though we are very frugal,” said Stekelenburg.
The province stepped in at the last moment, seven days before funding ran out for the 80 groups, and committed itself to funding BCSARA for three years. News broke in February that funding for the association had been left out of the provincial budget.
Announcing the funding commitment, public safety minister Mike Farnworth said the province would be creating a partnership committee, made up of BCSARA and EMBC representatives to create a policy on future funding for ground search and rescue (GSAR).
The committee will also be responsible for distributing the new funding as and when it is needed by the various teams.
“The funding will help BCSARA and GSAR – it will bolster training, provide administrative support and equipment renewals. It also will support the province and BCSARA in work to develop and implement a new governance and funding model,” said Farnworth.
“That’s why we’re providing a record level of funding as an immediate top-up of what B.C.’s ground search and rescue groups are already receiving, as well as establishing a joint committee to move more quickly toward developing a sustainable funding model.”
The $18.6 million represent the single largest provincial GSAR investment in B.C.’s history – a 24 per cent increase from $5 million per year in supplemental funding announced in 2016.
EMBC also receives funding for two additional staff positions to work with BCSARA on the development and implementation of a new governance and funding model.
The province’s 2,500 registered search and rescue volunteers provide a vital public safety service for citizens and visitors, responding to more than 1,600 incidents annually.