Technology seems to be entering all parts of our lives including the great outdoors. You may already be using some of the devices that are available such as Spot Transmitters; Avalanche Beacons; GPS Units; or even Cell Phones. In Search & Rescue, we also rely on these devices to help us navigate and to keep us safe in the backcountry. But we also have additional technology in our arsenal to assist us when on a Search or a Rescue.
One of the biggest challenges we face on any task is communication and this is one area where technology helps. In recent years, we have moved from the old-style pagers for calling out our members to using cell phones with Text messaging, Email and even recorded phone messages (nobody I know leaves the house without their cell phone!). When on a task, we use radios to communicate, each member has a portable radio issued to them and SAR owned vehicles (Jet boats, Rangers and response vehicles) have mobile radios installed. All the radios have a GPS built into the radio or the microphone and the location of the radio can be tracked using software on a computer in our Mobile Command Truck. The GPS allows us to see the location of our members on a task, this is a useful planning tool when we are performing a search. Another benefit is safety, the Search Manager can make sure teams in the field are not walking into dangerous terrain which is particularly useful at night.
The computers in our Mobile Command Truck also have a verity of digital maps and mapping software loaded onto them. Using the software, we can create detailed status maps showing what areas have been searched, those that have not and any areas of special interest. These status maps allow the Search Manager to see the big picture.
Many of our tasks happen well away from urban centers which means that the use of cell phones is often impossible. Chilliwack Search and Rescue uses Satellite phones to stay in touch with members, other teams and the Emergency Co-Ordination Centre in Victoria. We use Low Earth Orbit Satellite and Geostationary Satellite phones depending on where we are and which offers the best signal.
We are often asked about the use of drones for searching. In the right conditions drones can be a valuable tool allowing an operator to cover large search areas quickly. Although Chilliwack Search and Rescue does have access to drones through the RCMP, they do not work well in the areas where we do most of our calls. The problem for us is that much of our response area is covered in thick tree canopy, searching these areas with a drone is pretty much impossible.
The use of technology in Search and Rescue is moving ahead very quickly. We are excited to see how new innovations can be used to make it easier for us to help those who need us.
Special thanks to CSAR member Phil, SAR Manager and (resident techy!) for providing insight into one of the more unique aspects of rescue activities.