SSAR Member Involved in Search Exercise in NWT
SSAR President Jeff Baxter recently took part in a major Search and Rescue training exercise in Yellowknife, NWT. What a great experience!
The exercise was run by Arctic Response Canada Ltd. as part of the Ground Search Liaison portion of the Canadian Armed Forces Land Advanced Warfare Centre’s Arctic Operations Advisor Course (AOAC). Other organizations supporting the exercise included:
- Yellowknife Search and Rescue
- Yellowknife Municipal Enforcement Division
- NWT Coroner
Jeff’s roles included Search Manager and Exercise Director. In addition to planning appropriate search tasks to fit the scenarios and briefing the teams, he also coordinated the actors and other agency players. There were 40 course candidates and about 20 instructors, logistics support personnel and actors who took part in the exercise.
The search exercise started on February 17th with classroom review of a distance learning package, tabletop exercises and the setup of the search camp. The field portion started at midnight and ran through to midnight on February 20th.
The exercise was comprised of four 18-hour scenarios with two scenarios running concurrently. Teams worked on 6-hour operational cycles and were briefed into and out of scenarios as the exercise progressed. Each scenario was run twice to give all teams an opportunity to participate in every scenario. Scenarios were designed to give teams an opportunity to practice different types of searches, casualty handling/transport, evidence collection and handling, and navigation. All scenarios were at actual scale up to 50km from the Command Post and had live subjects.
The scenarios included:
- A young lady missing from the local ski trails. Through a variety of clues and misdirection it was eventually learned that she was the victim of foul play.
- Two adventurers, preparing for a planned walk to the North Pole, headed out across Great Slave Lake for a 220 km practice trek to Hay River. Lacking training and adequate preparation they quickly ran into difficulty. The resulting 500 km2 search area demonstrated the scale and challenges of searches in the North.
- A youth who walked away from camp 20 km from town led searchers on a wild chase throughout the area, including stolen snowmobiles and misidentification of the subject.
- When a trapper fails to return from his trap line a friend goes to look for him. When his friend also fails to return, the search begins a winding path through incorrect information. The search area was a confusing maze of trails amongst thousands of small islands and bays.
Although it was a very long and challenging four days trying to keep up with unexpected events (like searchers missing the “can’t be missed” stranded subject 30km from town) and cold (when one of the logistics support people filled the gas generator with diesel), Jeff says that overall it was a fantastic and challenging exercise with great buy-in from participants, organizers and other agencies.