Federal cuts threaten urban search-and-rescue teams
Published Wednesday, June 27, 2012 6:15PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, June 28, 2012 7:10AM EDT
The five specialized heavy urban search-and-rescue teams across the country, including the one called upon to search the rubble of a collapsed mall in Elliot Lake this week, are at risk of folding due to federal cuts, says a leading emergency preparedness expert.
The federal government will cut funding to its Joint Emergency Preparedness Program in 2013, which means footing the bill for the five teams will be left up to provinces and municipalities, according to Sean Tracey, chair of the Canadian Centre for Emergency Preparedness.
It was federal funding that started heavy urban search-and-rescue teams and, without that funding, existing programs will likely fold, Tracey said.
“We suspect that all of the burden for funding in maintaining these teams, which is quite costly, will result in it being passed down to the provinces, or to local municipalities, and, in the current climate, they just can’t support these teams,” Tracey told CTV’s Power Play.
The specialized work that existing teams are capable of can’t be replicated by local emergency responders, or even the Canadian Forces, Tracey said.
However, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said that 90 per cent of emergencies in Canada are already managed by municipal or provincial governments.
“Our government has supplemented provincial emergency preparedness by investing in equipment and training for urban search and rescue teams, firefighters, police and other first responders,” said Pubic Safety spokesperson Julie Carmichael in an email. “Moving forward, our government is focused on delivering long-term disaster prevention funding to help provincial and territorial governments build infrastructure to protect against natural disasters.”
Tracey maintained that the impending funding cuts could require Canada to ask other nations for assistance, should a disaster arise.
“Which would be, in my opinion, quite embarrassing for a G8 county, to request international aid on something where we should have inherent capabilities, nationally,” Tracey said.
Tracey has developed standards for some of the heavy urban search-and-rescue teams that have been at work in Elliot Lake, Ont., after a shopping mall collapsed over the weekend, killing two people and injuring 22 more.
These teams stand by after heavy equipment does some of the initial structure removals and team members can use visual scanning techniques, as well as K9 units, to search for survivors, or bodies trapped in the structure, Tracey explained.
Members of one team remained at the Elliot Lake site Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Vancouver team has been put on standby in recent days as B.C. braces for spring flooding, which has the potential to cause structural collapse.
Tracey also took a moment to weigh in on Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s response to the Elliot Lake shopping mall collapse.
On Monday, search-and-rescue crews announced they would have to cease operations and re-evaluate after they had exhausted their capabilities. The unstable structure made further rescue attempts dangerous for workers, crews said.
Shortly after that announcement, McGuinty stepped in, urging the crews to look at new ways to tackle the rescue.
“I think it’s really a bit of a slap in the face to the responders to say that they were not doing everything within their means, within their resources and the all of the extent of their training, and even more, in this case,” Tracey said.