© Kirk Starratt
EMO Nova Scotia emergency management planning officer Andrew Mitton, left, Valley Search and Rescue president Ashley Perry, operations deputy Yvonne Matheson, operations chief Stephen Best and incident commander Mireille Chantelois of the Annapolis County RCMP participate in a search and rescue training exercise May 3 in the Cambridge area. – Kirk Starratt, www.kingscountynews.ca
Teams of searchers spent hours combing the Cambridge area May 3 for two missing five-year-old children.
In this case, however, it was only a joint training exercise held by Valley Search and Rescue, Annapolis and West Hants ground search and rescue teams, the RCMP, the Emergency Management Office (EMO) and Valley Communications. Between 30 and 40 volunteers participated in the scenario.
Valley Search and Rescue president Ashley Perry said they try to involve variables that might occur in a real search and rescue mission in training exercises, making it as realistic as possible without putting search and rescue volunteers at risk.
“You’re trying to solve a mystery while managing people in the field and keeping everyone safe,” Perry said. “It’s a challenging and rewarding job.”
He said it’s important to develop relationships among search and rescue volunteers, police, EMO and other partners before they find themselves working together in an actual search event.
“This really gives us a chance to practice all the pieces that it takes to complete an actual search event,” Perry said. “You can’t practice enough. It’s important for training to be as close to the real thing as possible.”
Another benefit is getting to train volunteers in positions they haven’t had practical experience with and a realistic scenario to refine skills.
Cpl. Mike Carter of the Kings RCMP said police and EMO appreciate the amount of time and energy search and rescue volunteers put into the exercise. None of the volunteers were aware of the circumstances of the mock scenario before being called into the field.
Carter has worked with all three search and rescue organizations involved in the training exercise in actual search missions in the past. When police receive the initial call about a missing person, they call local search and rescue teams to mobilize them. Larger searches often require multiple teams, he said.
“We put a lot of trust and faith in the units,” Carter said. “They’re continuously showing us they’re ready for any situation we’d call them into.”
Carter said there was an observation team involved in the may 3 exercise and there would be a debriefing for the volunteers at the end, where best practices would be listed and recommendations for improvements would be made. He added that this type of exercise is a good morale builder and is an important part of keeping volunteers engaged.
EMO Nova Scotia emergency management planning officer Andrew Mitton said they act as a resource to the RCMP and search and rescue volunteers when there is an active search. EMO can help procure provincial resources like air support, for example, and help ensure that all other necessary resources are available.
However, Mitton is quick to point out that the greatest resource is the search and rescue volunteers. It would be “a tremendous loss” if we didn’t have organizations like Valley Search and Rescue, he added.