Saturday April 3, 2021 | VICTORIA, BC
by Mary P Brooke, Editor | Island Social Trends
A record number of people have ventured into the outdoors for something different to do during the COVID-19 pandemic, but many of them without the skills and experience for dealing with the natural challenges of nature and terrain.
Being outdoors during the pandemic has been recommended by public health, as a way to be active without much if any exposure to the COVID-19 virus which is transmitted from person to person. But public health recommendations may have inadvertently generated some unintended consequences — perhaps thinking people would just go for a walk to a local neighbourhood park, but people have gone much deeper into the woods, trails and mountains than that.
Today the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General announced that BC’s ground search and rescue (GSAR) groups have had their busiest year ever. GSAR groups were pushed far beyond their normal levels of activity in response to a record number of requests to assist the public.
Between April 2020 and April 2021, B.C.’s GSAR groups were deployed 1,959 times. This is an increase of nearly 25% when compared to callouts in previous years. Prior to this, B.C.’s GSAR groups attended an average of roughly 1,500 responses annually – more than the rest of Canada combined.
“Our search and rescue volunteers in B.C. are world class, and they’ve continued to prove that through the challenge of a global pandemic,” said Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General. “They jump into action in dangerous circumstances and inclement weather to protect public safety, and COVID-19 has only made their jobs harder. It’s our duty as British Columbians to protect them by ensuring we’ve taken safety precautions and are well-prepared for the unexpected when heading into the backcountry.”
Pushing GSAR to their limits:
“B.C.’s 79 GSAR groups have been pushed to their limits,” said Chris Kelly, president, BC Search and Rescue Association. “COVID-19 has made risky work even more dangerous for each individual. I implore anyone heading out into the elements to do their part by planning ahead. Make sure you’re prepared for where you’re going – have a plan, have the right gear, know how to use it and take the training.”
West Shore RCMP on preparedness:
West Shore RCMP (serving Langford, Colwood, Metchosin, Highlands and View Royal) remind hikers to be prepared when going hiking after a recent rescue incident. When heading out to a trail bring water and food, and dress appropriately as being in the great outdoors can land you “a long way from civilization”.
Do not hike alone, plan ahead, leave word of your destination and schedule, use common sense, dress appropriately, and take along the right equipment. And if you get lost, the police recommendation is to keep calm, stay dry, and keep warm and if possible stay put.
On March 27 West Shore RCMP had to undertake a 12 km hike over rough mountainous terrain to rescue two lost hikers at a popular hiking mountain. Two teens (age 17 and 18) had become lost in the Sooke Hills Wilderness Regional Park in Metchosin without water, food or any survival supplies and a cellphone only minimally charged.
GPS coordinates obtained by police were key to enabling the rescue, accompanied by police service dog Erik. It took three hours to locate the hikers after voice contact was first made with the hikers, said Cst Alex Bérubé, Media Relations Officer, West Shore RCMP.
Preparing for the outdoors:
It is important to prepare for the unexpected when heading outdoors, regardless of weather. While spring begins to arrive in some of B.C.’s valleys, winter conditions persist in the alpine. Tragically, there were 10 avalanche fatalities in B.C. in the last year.
“B.C.’s GSAR groups have done tremendous work over this past year,” said Jennifer Rice, Parliamentary Secretary for Emergency Preparedness.
“The best way to show your gratitude is to make sure you are prepared for your outdoor adventure. Even if you think it will be a short trip, it’s important to let someone know where you’re going, investigate the terrain and weather conditions beforehand, and bring supplies for an unexpected overnight,” says Rice.
“Let people know where you are going and when you expect to return,” says Jeri Grant, Program Coordinator, Juan de Fuca Emergency Program. | www.prepareyourself.ca
“Remember to wear or bring appropriate clothes because weather can change drastically,” she says, adding that she has even seen people go hiking in flip flops, later regretting that they didn’t wear more appropriate footwear.
And during the pandemic there are additional considerations. “If you are hiking with people not in your immediate household you still have to socially distance,” says Grant. “If you can’t keep your distance, wear your mask. But I know that’s really hard for people to do,” she says. “Really just hike with your household bubble.”
Carrying along a whistle can be very helpful if you need help. Audio location can be very helpful.
Calling for help:
It is critical not only to be prepared before venturing into B.C.’s mountains and trails, but also to call for help immediately if needed. BC AdventureSmart advises people follow the “Three Ts”: trip plan, train and take the essentials.
Avalanche Canada has extensive resources on its website, including information about avalanche conditions, terrain and an online avalanche tutorial, Avy Savvy.
===== LINKS (provided by BC Government):
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Avalanche Canada: https://avalanche.ca
Avalanche Canada Avy Savvy: https://avysavvy.avalanche.ca/en-ca
PreparedBC is British Columbia’s one-stop shop for disaster readiness information. For tips on seasonal readiness, how to prepare an emergency plan and what to include in an emergency kit, visit PreparedBC: http://preparedbc.ca
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