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Canadian air force’s SAR response under scrutiny

June 11, 2013, Ottawa – The Canadian air force was told more than year before being rapped on the knuckles by the auditor general that varying its hours of search-and-rescue operations would mean significantly improved response times for people in distress.


June 11, 2013
By The Canadian Press

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June 11, 2013, Ottawa – The Canadian air force was told more than year before
being rapped on the knuckles by the auditor general that varying its
hours of search-and-rescue operations would mean significantly
improved response times for people in distress.

The Defence Research and Development Canada analysis, obtained by
The Canadian Press, examined in detail the way rescue squadrons do
business.

The analysis says tinkering with the schedule would give joint
rescue centres more leverage "to save lives without increasing''
the staffing levels of air force units.

Despite the conclusion of the March 2012 report, the
recommendation gathered dust until the military was taken to task in
April by the auditor general, who found the rescue system is close
to the "breaking point."

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Examining data over a five-year period in the early 2000s, the
report says as many as 20 people – out of 814 involved in rescues
during that time – would have benefited from shorter response times.

The report was commissioned by the head of the air force in late
2007 and looked at data over a five-year period.

Had operational hours been adjusted, rescue centres in Victoria
and Trenton would have been able to respond more quickly to almost
50 per cent of the cases, said the 52-page analysis.

In response to auditor Michael Ferguson's report, Defence
Minister Peter MacKay "encouraged'' local commanders to adjust
their hours of operation, among other things.

The military is currently required to get a rescue aircraft off
the runway within 30 minutes of an emergency call between 8 a.m. and
4 p.m., Monday to Friday, and within two hours outside that window.

The national search-and-rescue manual already gives commanders
that authority, "to realign SAR standby periods'' so that they
coincide with periods of greatest search-and-rescue, particularly
during the summer months.

The department was unable to immediately comment on why the
report wasn't acted on, or what consideration it was given.

But a spokeswoman for MacKay, Paloma Aguilar, underscored
squadron commanders have been told to be more flexible, and that a
comprehensive review of the search-and-rescue has been ordered.

But New Democrat defence critic Jack Harris said he doesn't
understand why the minister hasn't taken a more decisive stand and
ordered the hours be adjusted in each sector to better reflect the
average rescue times.

"It's just not acceptable the government can ignore these
reports, and only respond with half measures," Harris said Monday.
"That's not direction. That's not a directive."

At the time of his announcement, MacKay took pains to emphasize
the air force "meets and often exceeds'' the mandatory time, but
the research report paints a more nuanced picture.

It shows that during the 30-minute launch window, it takes as an
average of 40 minutes to get a C-130 Hercules fixed-wing aircraft
into the air. Both the C-115 Buffalo and the CH-149 Cormorant
helicopters meet the deadline.

All aircraft meet the two-hour take-off timeline.

The Harper government is currently trying to replace both the
Hercules and Buffalos.

Harris said there is clearly something wrong when the air force
can't get a Hercules into the air in less than half an hour.

He said he suspects it has something to do with the pilot and
crew shortage referenced in the auditor's report.

Defence sources, who were not authorized to speak to the news
media, said there is a myriad of reasons the C-130s struggle to meet
the 30-minute deadline, including a long pre-flight check list and
the fact aircraft are not "quarantined,'' meaning they are fuelled
and ready to go a moment's notice.


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