Backcountry enthusiasts urged to venture out safely during COVID-19
As winter settles in and calls for search and rescue continue to rise, people are urged to plan and prepare before heading into B.C.’s backcountry.
“Since the beginning of this pandemic we have seen an increase in the number of people enjoying the outdoors, but also a persistent rise in the number of ground search and rescue calls in British Columbia,” said Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General. “People are getting stuck or lost, and we’re finding they’re unprepared for the elements or haven’t familiarized themselves with their route.
“This can be dangerous, not only for the people who are in distress, but also for the search and rescue crews deployed to help. I also want to take this opportunity to thank all of our search and rescue volunteers in B.C. who continue to go above and beyond to protect public safety, even during a pandemic.”
Since April 2020, crews have been deployed for almost 1,600 search and rescue missions. This means in 2020, ground search and rescue (GSAR) crews have responded to more than 300 additional callouts compared to the same period in 2019 and 2018, which had 1,265 and 1,236 deployments, respectively.
“Preparedness is the first step when considering heading out into the elements,” said Jennifer Rice, Parliamentary Secretary for Emergency Preparedness. “Don’t let an adventure turn into an emergency. Instead, research your route, look at the forecast, pack appropriately and leave a trip plan. It’s critical to know your limits, dress for the conditions and bring extra layers in case you get lost or stranded.”
BC AdventureSmart provides the following tips on how to remain safe when heading outdoors during the pandemic:
- Make a plan that explains your destination, travel route and expected return time.
- Know the terrain and conditions.
- Check out the weather forecast to inform your planning.
- Get the knowledge and skills you need before heading out, e.g., avalanche safety training.
- Know your limits. Stay within them.
Take the essentials:
- Always carry the essentials and know how to use them.
- Add seasonal and sport-specific gear (e.g., microspikes, avalanche transceiver, shovel, probe).
“We want people to be aware of the additional risk out there,” said Chris Kelly, president, BC Search and Rescue Association. “The risk is not only being unprepared for the outdoors, but also exposing our professional volunteers to COVID-19 during callouts. Our members risk life and limb to keep people safe, and that risk is compounded by the pandemic. We’re imploring everyone playing in the B.C. backcountry to play it safe – for their sake and the sake of our dedicated crews and their families.”
While it is important to plan ahead and prepare before heading into the backcountry, it is equally important to call for help when in need. If lost, stranded or hurt in the outdoors, immediately alert the authorities.
In July 2020, government followed through on its commitment to sustainably fund GSAR groups throughout the province with an ongoing $6-million contribution starting in 2022-23. This, on top of annual operational funding, will ensure GSAR volunteers with appropriate tools and training can continue to provide this vital service throughout the province.
PreparedBC is British Columbia’s one-stop shop for disaster readiness information. For tips on seasonal readiness, how to prepare an emergency plan and what to include in an emergency kit, visit: