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2020 - A Year in Review saskatoon search and rescue

At Saskatoon Search and Rescue, we bring hope and comfort to families. We save lives by assisting our agencies of jurisdiction in search and rescue missions.

SSAR’s Mission: To assist the Saskatoon Police Service, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Saskatoon Emergency Measures Organization, and other agencies having jurisdiction in addressing community emergencies, particularly in locating lost or missing persons. SSAR also provides community outreach to prevent search emergencies.

SSAR’s Vision: SSAR will be recognized as a leading search and rescue organization within Canada, responding to search emergencies and mitigating harm to search subjects. We will incorporate the latest technology and management systems, as well as effective training, to improve our capacity as concerned citizens and competent searchers. SSAR will be a sustainable charitable and volunteer organization with stable funding and an engaged membership.

For much of 2020, COVID forced us to modify our practices and protocols so we could continue to support our community by working together, while staying apart.

Any photos in this report which are indoors and without masks were taken before mid-March when covid restrictions came into effect.

ACTIVATIONS

In 2020, Saskatoon Search and Rescue responded to nine activations for missing persons; eight with the Saskatoon Police Service and one with the RCMP. In addition, we assisted our community with two non-search activations.

The 9 search activations included:

  • 4 elderly with dementia
  • 2 young children
  • 1 teenager missing from group outing
  • 1 despondent
  • 1 adult with cognitive disorder

More than 650 hours were spent on these activations.

One of the more unusual activations was on November 8 when we provided support to EMO, Saskatoon Police Service and Saskatoon Fire Department on the "stranded persons task force" during the first big blizzard of the season which brought record-setting snowfall.

We provided two members in the Tactical Operations Centre and had seven teams of two in various areas of the city.

Saskatoon Search and Rescue members worked past 2am checking and flagging abandoned vehicles, and helping people get unstuck.

Our agencies of jurisdiction were grateful for the support and SSAR's efforts were noted in several media stories the next day.

Towards the end of 2020, SSAR formalized the Operations Committee.

The purpose of the Operations Committee is to evaluate the performance of SSAR during activations or non-search emergencies and then make recommendations to the Board of Directors regarding the allocation and advancement of resources, development of training opportunities, and changes to both activation and field procedures with the aim of improving overall operational effectiveness.

PROJECT LIFESAVER SASKATOON

Project Lifesaver (PL) continued to grow in 2020. Active client numbers fluctuated greatly during the year with people coming in and out of the program. We welcomed 18 new clients, and at one point in the year had 53 active clients.

We ended 2020 with 42 active clients and several requests are in progress.

Despite the growth in client numbers, we had only one callout for a Project Lifesaver client, a significant drop from last year when we responded 17 times.

This was a tough year for many of our PL clients and former clients. COVID restrictions kept many indoors, and many have experienced a significant decline in health and mobility. Several former clients have passed away.

We are grateful for their caregivers who took on the responsibility of battery changes or assisted our team in changing batteries without direct contact.

If you have a loved one who wanders due to a cognitive disorder such as dementia, Alzheimer's, autism or Down Syndrome, please go to www.projectlifesaversaskatoon.org for more information. Or contact us at projectlifesaversaskatoon@gmail.com.

TRAINING

The year started with normal winter training, both outdoors and in the classroom.

In January, we learned about the relatively new Saskatchewan Critical Incident Stress Management (SaskCISM) program.

A new cohort of recruits were going through the screening process shortly before the COVID lockdown in the spring.

Due to COVID restrictions, the recruitment process was put on pause for several months.

Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of our dedicated trainers, the new searcher course went online in the fall. Several existing members joined the new recruits to share their experiences and to brush up on their own skills and knowledge.

Small group in-person training was held outside and new recruits shared their "homework" tasks through videos posted to SSAR member-only pages.

The twelve new recruits will complete their initial training in January 2021.

Training for existing members was paused in the spring and resumed with new COVID protocols for both training and activations.

To minimize the risk of spreading COVID, most training was held outdoors. Members maintained a 2-metre distance from each other or wore masks during group training exercises.

Outdoor training was supplemented with a variety of navigation, GPS and map and compass exercises which members could complete on their own or with teammates via radio communication.

Online learning opportunities included several videos on how to stay safe during COVID as well as other general searcher reminders.

This year was a busy one for the SSAR K9 team.

Kate and K9 Jenga recertified in wilderness and urban search in Edmonton.

The team also had the opportunity to expand their disaster training at CFB Esquimalt in conjunction with SARDAA (Search and Rescue Dog Association of Alberta) and SARDAV (Search and Recovery Dog Association of Victoria). This trip held so many new situations for both dog and handler and was a great learning experience.

Despite the restrictions imposed by COVID, Saskatoon Search and Rescue members spent 2400 hours in training during 2020.

NEW TRUCK

The new Saskatoon Search and Rescue truck was officially unveiled to the media in July

While the truck itself was purchased in 2019, the purchase of search and rescue tools and gear was made possible by the generous donations of additional donors in 2020.

The SSAR truck will be used to tow the Command Post trailer or the Logistics trailer to any search and rescue incident in the province.

It has built-in storage for medical and technical rescue equipment.

With extra lighting, power supplies, towing capabilities and other custom additions, the truck will be particularly helpful in assisting searchers to access remote areas, in inclement weather, and at night.

It is also immediately identifiable as a response vehicle, improving our ability to link with other agencies and the public.

Because the SSAR truck is always loaded and ready to go, it will improve our response times, expand our capabilities and contribute to the safety of our members and all involved in an activation.

We are grateful to the four major sponsors who made this project happen:

  • Axon Development Corporation
  • Kinsmen Club of Saskatoon
  • Merlin Ford Lincoln
  • Dakota Dunes Community Development Corporation

Generous donations to the SSAR Truck Project also came from:

  • Martensville Veterinary Hospital
  • ESTI Consulting Services
  • Medavie Health Services West
  • Saskatoon Police Executive Officers Association
  • Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union
  • Ghost Transportation Services
  • Saskatoon Police Service

There were also many private donations.

Thank you all for sharing our vision of serving our community.

DEDICATED VOLUNTEERS

Saskatoon Search and Rescue members are unpaid professionals who volunteer their time, skills and energy because they believe in SSAR’s mission and vision.

In addition to time spent on activations and training, members also spent many hours on administration, logistics and maintenance, chapter and provincial level meetings, AdventureSmart programs as well as fundraising and awareness raising.

Several members are involved in planning next year's national Search and Rescue conference - SARscene (Sept 25 - 26, 2021) hosted by Search and Rescue Saskatchewan Association of Volunteers (SARSAV).

SSAR members volunteered more than 5600 hours for the betterment and safety of our community during 2020.

FUNDAISING and COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

While many of our annual fundraising events were cancelled due to COVID, including our own Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival Tour, SSAR continued to receive wide-spread community support throughout 2020.

SSAR was awarded the 2020 Kenwood Cares Grant from JVCKENWOOD Canada. The $10K grant provided more handheld radios, enabling SSAR members to respond quicker, particularly to Project Lifesaver clients.

We are grateful to Prairie Mobile Communications for programming the radios and setting things up.

Prairie Mobile Communications also generously provided SSAR with a new power supply for our communications repeater when it was struck by lightning in the spring.

The SGEU Public Service Bargaining Unit made a generous donation of $10,000 so SSAR can continue to grow.

The Saskatoon Police Association provided $1,000 for Project Lifesaver.

Other donations included hand sanitizer from LB Distillers and enough masks from the Canadian Tire Covid Fund that we were able to share them with other Search and Rescue organizations in Saskatchewan. We are also grateful for the honorarium we received for providing first aid at Meewasin skate parties at the start of the year.

In November, Search Dog Jenga's groomers, What a Mess Pet Grooming, held a special nail trim clinic and donated all proceeds to SSAR.

Almost $1000 was raised from community clean ups (EcoFriendly action grant and a Rubbish Roundup event in which SSAR was one of the charities that people could ask for a donation to be made to).

SSAR members spent several evenings scouring and cleaning up the riverbank, hauling out garbage and the remains of abandoned tent cities.

In early October SSAR members raised the profile of the organization by taking the mule wheel and litter for a 5km walk along the Messwasin trail as part of the Cameco Step Up for Mental Health walk.

Our social media following continues to grow with more than 2,500 likes on FaceBook and more than 1,700 on Twitter. Thank you to all who like and share our posts.

Public awareness and promotion of our organization is vital to fundraising, recruiting and fulfilling our mandate of preventative search and rescue education. We are grateful to all those who help get our message out.

At Saskatoon Search and Rescue, we depend on the generosity of people, businesses and organizations who believe in what we do.

SSAR is run entirely by volunteers, so your support means everything to us.

To make a donation, please visit the donations page of our website. You can also learn more about our sponsors and donors.

THANK YOU to ALL our supporters!

We look forward to continuing to learn from each other and supporting our community in 2021.