Search and Rescue – who is paying the price?

Should there be some kind of penalty for people who cause dangerous and unnecessary search-and-rescue operations?

Whenever Search and Rescue have to conduct a high profile rescue of a skier or snowboarder who goes out of bounds, a public debate inevitably arises over whether they should pay for the cost of the expensive search-and-rescue operations needed to save them.

The cost of such rescue operations are borne by the province. They can quickly add up to tens of thousands of dollars and can pose considerable risks to rescuers asked to brave rough terrain and unforgiving weather.

Critics of those who seek greater thrills in out-of-bound areas always point to the unnecessary risk such action places on rescuers. In winter, search-and-rescue personnel have to struggle through very deep snow in avalanche-prone terrain to conduct a rescue.

In summer, they may be called out in the middle of the night to rescue boaters on the lake, or an injured hiker balanced on a cliff.

As frustrating as it is for search-and-rescue officials to be called out to rescue someone who has got themselves in a dangerous situation that could have been avoided with a little common sense, what must be even more frustrating is being called out to rescue someone who doesn’t need rescuing.

There were a number of incidents this weekend where Search and Rescue were called out because people had not followed through on their plans. If you are going out hiking, or boating, or mountain biking, it makes sense to let someone know where you are going and what time to expect you back. If you have made these kind of plans, follow them through. Running into friends and forgetting to let people know you are safe is about as irresponsible as it gets. If you have arranged to activate your SPOT device to let people know you are OK and fail to do so,  this is also very thoughtless.

Search and Rescue have long opposed charging people for their rescues because they fear that people who find themselves in distress, and their friends and family, may not seek help, fearing the cost, which could lead to fatalities.

While the logic is sound, it still isn’t fair that people face no consequence for stupid decisions that put others at risk. Each call out and rescue is different. You can’t fine people for lack of intelligence. But there needs to be some kind of penalty for those people who cause  dangerous and unnecessary search-and-rescue operations  denouncing their irresponsible behaviour.