Reflections on SARscene Conference – PEI

Written by Tracy VanBrabant

In October, both Diane and I had the pleasure of attending SARscene 2015 in Charlottetown, PEI. It is an annual event that brings together groups from coast to coast, to educate, train, and share ideas. It was an eye opening experience to see how many different organizations there are involved in Search and Rescue. While I’m used to working as a GSAR (Ground Search and Rescue) volunteer, it was fascinating to see other groups like CASARA (Civil Air Search and Rescue Association), K9-SAR, Canadian Forces, Canada Coast Guard, RCMP, Parks Canada, police officers, firefighters, and many more. There was a real emphasis on co-operation between the various agencies and, by working together, we can make a bigger impact and save lives.

Train-the-Trainer class. (AdventureSmart photo.)

Train-the-Trainer class. (Thanks to AdventureSmart for the photo.)

This year I was fortunate to be selected as one of two representatives from our province to take a pre-conference “Train the Trainer” program by AdventureSmart. Thanks to this training, I am now certified to go around the province and train local presenters on the various programs available.

AdventureSmart is a federal program that promotes education and prevention. It demonstrates how individuals can pre-plan and prevent many mishaps while enjoying the great outdoors. The programs include Hug-a-Tree, Survive Outside, Survive Outside Snowmobile, Snow Safety Education Program and PaddleSmart.

Another pre-conference opportunity was a field day and SAR demonstrations. Booths from various groups were set up in a local park. There were fire-starting demonstrations by AdventureSmart and various companies showing off the latest and greatest SAR technology. From ARGO’s to UAV’s (unmanned aerial vehicles), equipment was buzzing around. The K9 teams also were present to show off the dog skills. There was even an aerial rescue demonstration in the harbour where a Cormorant helicopter plucked people from an overturned boat.

One of the many vendor booths. Gear heaven!

One of the many vendor booths. Gear heaven!

There were so many educational opportunities at the conference and it was hard to pick between them. I managed to take in “Effective Adult Messaging: Making the Results Matter,” “Tick and Lyme Disease: Prevention and Detection,” “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: Resources for Volunteers,” and “SAR Response to Vulnerable Persons.” By the way, the tick presentation is not for the squeamish.

In addition to all of the education provided, there were many social opportunities. PEI GSAR hosted a “Kitchen Party” for delegates at the local fire hall. They fed us local delights such as oysters, mussels, crab, fresh PEI corn and the famous Cavendish Farm fries, while local musicians kept things lively with fiddle playing and vocals. The adventure of the evening was joining the “Shucked and Shined” club. For a donation to PEI GSAR you were given a raw oyster and a shot of moonshine (the legal stuff). That was quite an experience for a prairie girl and I have an official PEI Aquaculture Alliance certificate to prove it! It was so much fun to hang out with other people that have a true heart for Search and Rescue. I met many new friends from Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and PEI.

Experiencing the local hospitality!

Experiencing the local hospitality!

The overall message that I came away with from the conference was the need for more prevention work. By increasing the use of AdventureSmart presentations, we can not only prevent occurrences but also increase the likelihood of good outcomes for missing individuals. By going into special care homes and doing some pre-planning, we can speed up the response time for searches. There was a significant emphasis on pre-planning over the whole weekend.

It was so mind blowing to see all of the different organizations that came together for the conference. Hearing from members of both the police and RCMP talk about working together with the volunteer groups. I was also thrilled to see active police members that were also search and rescue volunteers. They were able to do cross training with both organizations. One specific example provided was training both police officers and SAR volunteers on how to look for missing dementia patients and what to do when you find one. This is invaluable training considering Canada’s aging population.

Having thoroughly enjoyed SARscene 2015, both Diane and I are looking forward to SARscene 2016 in Edmonton next year. It is an experience not to be missed!

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