When a six year old girl was missing in Elkwater in mid-August, South Eastern Alberta Search & Rescue Association (SEASAR) volunteers were there as part of the search effort.
Having a highly-trained group to help in efforts such as this one is an extreme benefit to southeast Alberta.
Unfortunately, it has been a rough trail the last year or so. SEASAR spokesperson DeLea Mapstone, says Covid-19 has hurt the organization in a few ways and are trying to recover. Since Covid-19-related rules placed on business and public gatherings, SEASAR has not been able to generate their usual revenue through fundraisers such as working at Medicine Hat casinos.
Established officially in 1999, SEASAR gets limited direct funding from the government and instead depends on public donations, money from grants and fundraisers such as working for the casino. SEASAR is a registered non-profit and charitable society.
The money isn’t to pay anyone, it is to help for courses and instructors (if not already in-house). The provincial government will give a set amount of funding to Alberta Search and Rescue (ASR). Mapstone didn’t provide exact numbers, but once a year ASR and the Alberta government decide which groups get what amount of money. Mapstone says there’s upwards of 36 to 37 groups which apply for the funds.
“Generally, you get enough money to run one course; there’s some years you don’t get any money. <span>Everybody in the organization, in order to be an active searcher needs to have search and rescue basics,” explains Mapstone. “In our group, we’re lucky because I’ve actually made sure that we had in-house instructors so they have the proper training for that. Then above that, we also have to have trained leaders and trained managers, which have separate courses themselves. That’s basically just to be able to function as a basic search and rescue.”</span>
<span> She says they have such specialty skills and equipment like rope climbing and properly operating its rescue jet boat which needs to have special training for certified operators. </span>
<span> Mapstone says they need to have a base which is currently the airport.</span>
<span> “We’re not sure how we’re going to be able to stay there either with the changes at the airport and various things as well,” explains Mapstone. “We would love to have our own building but we would have to come up with that and we need to come up with funding to pay taxes and utilities and things like that if we can. This year with the casino and how everything has gone (with Covid) and the casino being a main fundraiser that we rely on that’s kind of been delayed, that’s created some issues for us because we really have no incoming income and a lot of the places that would donate money are suffering themselves. It’s impacted things all the way around. Not only that, costs of responding have increased to a certain point as well because we’re having to come up with our own personal protective equipment. Extra masks, extra cleaning for the vehicles, responding with less people in the vehicle at times, so that will reduce in the contact between people now with most of our responses.”</span>
<span> “We’re looking for any advances in funding or donations that we can come up with getting donations, any of that grant writing, any of that kind of stuff,” adds Mapstone, and notes some of the volunteers have experience in grant writing and they do all of those projects. They also run a fundraising endurance race, the Medicine Hat Massacre Adventure Race in June.</span>
<span> She says SEASAR has a committee which decides on how to spend the budget they do have. </span>
<span> SEASAR is equipped and trained for a variety of search and rescues. According to its website, the volunteer group does ground search and rescue in urban and wilderness environments; evidence search for police authorities; water rescue, including our shallow-draft jet boat; Utility Terrain Vehicle (UTV) to speed search efforts on trails and rough terrain; rope rescue team for steep terrain; equine team to match our region’s needs; canine teams to support search; mobile command center, equipment trailer, and vehicles and strong communications with radios, as well as trained and licensed operators.</span>
<span> They fall under the umbrella of Search and Rescue Alberta and have to be called out by “tasking” agencies such as law enforcement or some sort of emergency services to be able to attend. They can’t accept private, direct calls. </span>
<span> “We have ranged anywhere from 30 to 80 people that are able to respond. Over the past 20 years that’s been the range, and I believe we’re at about 35 operational members right nowâ€¦ that have been changing through COVID,” states Mapstone. “There’s some people that just haven’t been comfortable responding because you know they have vulnerable people (in their inner circle), that sort of thing, as well as everybody kind of has to weigh in on it. Even with COVID increase in medicine, this had potentially more effects on more of our membersâ€¦ we’re all volunteers, so we have noticed over the past six months especially in people responding â€¦and part of that is because of apprehension.”</span>
See https://www.facebook.com/sealbertasar for more.