July 24, 2015
Canada’s area of responsibility for Search and Rescue (SAR) includes millions of square kilometers of sparsely settled and austere terrain, and the longest coastlines in the world. Combined with extremes in geography and weather, Canada is one of the most challenging countries in the world for SAR operations. SAR is a shared responsibility, across all levels of government and delivered with the support of the private/commercial sector and the assistance of thousands of dedicated volunteers.
The Government of Canada is committed to bringing all these stakeholders together to work proactively in improving our SAR system for Canadians. A key part of this is the advancement of SAR response capacity with satellite technology and the leveraging of existing emergency response relationships. As identified in the 2015 Defence Acquisition Guide, the Government of Canada is moving forward with an investment of up to $249 million in the Medium Earth Orbit Search and Rescue (MEOSAR) satellite capability. In addition to this, the National Search and Rescue Secretariat (NSS) will transfer from the Department of National Defence to Public Safety Canada, effective immediately.
Enhancements to Canada’s National SAR Program will continue to contribute to improving Search and Rescue response times. By building stronger relationships, awareness, and understanding of the current system, the Government of Canada is enabling a more effective SAR system with improved coordination and prevention activities amongst all levels of government and first responders.
Building on Canada’s long standing contribution to the international SAR community, the Department of National Defence has been authorized to negotiate and sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the United States Air Force for the procurement and supply of Canadian Search and Rescue Repeaters that will integrated on American GPS satellites and will be fully interoperable with the international MEOSAR system. The MEOSAR system will improve detection and increase the location accuracy of activated emergency beacons from up to four hours to near real time.
Canada is prepared to build up to 24 MEOSAR repeaters to be hosted on United States Air Force Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites and install up to three ground stations as its contribution to the MEOSAR capability. Once fully operational, there will be over 36 MEOSAR capable satellites in space which will provide greater coverage of the earth’s surface due to the number of satellites and distance they will orbit from earth compared to the present system. Resulting coverage will be provided from many different angles, bringing about improvements that will be most pronounced in difficult terrain. This improved system will be a key component of Canada’s National SAR system.
The National Search and Rescue Secretariat is responsible for the management and coordination of the National Search and Rescue Program (NSP). This program integrates organizations and resources that are involved in SAR, including both response and prevention. The transfer from the Department of National Defence to Public Safety Canada will streamline NSP coordination with federal/provincial/territorial (F/P/T) partners. The Department of National Defence will retain its lead role for the delivery of aeronautical SAR operations, just as the Canadian Coast Guard will remain responsible for maritime SAR.
The transfer of the NSS is an opportunity to take advantage of Public Safety Canada’s expertise in coordinating among government institutions, as well as its history of cooperation with provincial, territorial, and non-government organizations involved in emergency management. This shift in responsibility will contribute to improved SAR interoperability, coordination, and prevention efforts while improving the delivery of SAR services in Canada. The transfer is a result of the outcomes of the 2013 Spring Report of the Auditor General of Canada and the first Quadrennial SAR Review held in 2013. This review provided a comprehensive perspective of Canada’s NSP, with a view to enhancing integration and alignment within the National SAR Program, in order to provide a seamless system for Canadians.
The Government of Canada is committed to improving “Places of Refuge” planning by exploring options to implement web-based tools using real-time data to enhance Canada’s ability to respond to vessels in need of assistance.
By using real-time data, the Government will be able to improve decision-making capabilities on appropriate places of refuge for disabled vessels during critical and changing circumstances. This will help to reduce the likelihood of a disabled vessel becoming distressed, potentially leading to a SAR event.
The Government of Canada is working with communities and vessel operators to develop ‘awareness packages’ to support safe Arctic voyages. This initiative is aimed at collecting and providing critical information for mariners that will complement other Government services, including the Canadian Coast Guard’s e-navigation initiative and Environment Canada’s weather and ice information products and services.