Internet connectivity plays an important role in keeping people safe in emergency situations, especially in remote areas.
Chris Ashurst, president of the Masset Marine Rescue Society and Archipelago Ground Search and Rescue Society, knows this well.
“Upgrades to our local internet network and cellular service are making a big difference in the work we do from an emergency-management perspective,” Ashurst said. “In this modern world, much of our work is done online, and having stable and secure internet helps us better prepare for and manage emergency situations.”
Masset Marine Rescue responds to about 10 incidents a year. The team of dedicated volunteers covers a large area, including the Dixon Entrance, Northern Hecate Strait, the Masset Inlet and many other areas around Haida Gwaii. Its work includes towing disabled vessels, providing emergency medical assistance, evacuating injured mariners to medical care, and providing community support for maritime events. It also provides training to dozens of volunteers in marine safety, certification and professional mariner skills.
“Initial alerts are communicated to us, then we have to rapidly assess the situation, often with online data, make a plan of action, call out volunteers and communicate with the co-ordination centre and each other,” Ashurst said. “During an emergency, these internet upgrades are helping us get out the message faster and to a larger portion of the community, which will help keep people safe.”
Another key to the Masset Marine Rescue Society’s success is its new fast-response rescue vessel, Tagwaal. The vessel is a fully equipped Titan Falkins Class, Type 2, the preferred boat for West Coast rescue organizations.
Funded through provincial gaming grants, Gwaii Trust and the Prince Rupert Port Authority, the boat is also helping to improve emergency response times, along with the safety of volunteers and the people they serve. Through training and marine rescue experience, the boat will also expand employment opportunities for volunteers.
Jinny Sims, Minister of Citizens’ Services, and Jennifer Rice, Parliamentary Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and North Coast MLA, toured the Masset Search and Rescue base and the Tagwaal to learn more about the work the organization does. They saw first-hand how investments in marine and ground search and rescue and broadband connectivity are helping to improve emergency response on Haida Gwaii.
“Ensuring that Haida Gwaii’s search and rescue volunteers have the tools and equipment they need to do their job is paramount,” Sims said. “Our investments in connectivity on Haida Gwaii are helping to save lives and keep communities safe.”
The Masset Marine Search and Rescue Society is part of Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue (RCM-SAR), a volunteer organization of more than 1,000 people from many backgrounds who volunteer their time to train, be trained, and be on standby in case they need to respond to an emergency on the water. These volunteers have the use of modern well-equipped rescue vessels that are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
“Like many in B.C., residents on Haida Gwaii may face earthquakes, tsunamis or marine accidents,” Rice said. “As a Marine Search and Rescue member myself, I know of the additional challenge that many communities are especially remote, with boat-only access, which makes having a state-of-the-art vessel and reliable high-speed internet essential to improve response times, public safety and emergency preparedness."
The Province’s investment in broadband infrastructure, which paves the way for cellular service, will continue to improve emergency response and the tsunami warning system for those who live and visit Haida Gwaii.
- Since July 2017, the Province has funded projects to improve high-speed internet connectivity in 479 communities, including 83 Indigenous communities, and approximately 45,000 households.
- Gwaii Communications’ Operation Connect project will improve internet access in rural Haida Gwaii.
- Construction involves an expansion of Haida Gwaii’s existing network to extend or improve services to the communities of Lawn Hill, Miller Creek, Port Clements, Tlell, Tow Hill and Sandspit.
- Work began on the project in March 2018 and is expected to be completed in early 2020.
- Masset Marine Rescue has received $645,000 in funding over the last three years through the Community Gaming Grants Public Safety sector to purchase its boat.
- Community gaming grants provide up to $140 million each year to about 5,000 not-for-profit organizations in British Columbia that benefit from this funding to directly deliver approved programs in their communities.
Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue: https://bit.ly/2mZY8fI
Gwaii Communications: http://www.gwaiicomm.com/
Connecting British Columbia program: https://www.northerndevelopment.bc.ca/funding-programs/partner-programs/connectingbritish-columbia/