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Search and rescue exercise in Sundre sharpens missing senior response procedures

Sundre Seniors’ Supportive Living facility hosts training scenario that brings together multiple agencies

SUNDRE – What constitutes a crisis for worried friends and family as well as health-care staff in a seniors’ care facility when a resident is reported missing, might not necessarily seem or even feel like an emergency to the concerned individual.

“We consider them lost, they consider themselves out for a stroll; that’s the world these subjects live in,” said Roger Tetreault, Sundre Search and Rescue Association senior search manager.

“What’s a crisis for us, may not be a crisis for them,” Tetreault told the Albertan on May 10.

Just days prior, he was among a coordinated training exercise hosted by Mountain View Seniors’ Housing (MVSH) at the non-profit organization’s lodge in Sundre that brought together the facility’s staff as well as regional search and rescue volunteers and members of the RCMP on a staged scenario involving a missing resident.

“It went really well,” he said, adding there were about half a dozen members from both of the Sundre as well as Mountain View search and rescue organizations, “including two new members who got to experience this type of search for the first time; that was really good for them to see.”

Grateful for the chance to participate in the exercise that was intended to sharpen search and rescue skills and also iron out potential wrinkles in response procedures, Tetreault said among the most positive developments to come out of the two-day training session was the opportunity for MVSH staff to get a first-hand look at how search and rescue operations function.

“They’re used to dealing with their issues on their facility; this was an exercise with getting off the facility and sort of out of their hands and into the RCMP and search and rescue world’s hands,” he said.

“It probably gave them a little bit of peace of mind and confidence knowing that there is a local team that’s quite capable and competent and able to respond to this sort of an emergency.”

Although a staged scenario, among the potential outcomes is the responders’ inability to locate the “missing” senior.

“We wanted to make it as realistic as possible,” said Tetreault. “So, using lost person behaviour, we put the subject in an area that would be conducive to this type of a walk-away.”

At the same time, he said the intent was not to send teams on a nigh-impossible search for a needle in a haystack and the coordinated search effort was in the end successful.

“We did find the subject at the end of the day before the rain storm came,” he said.

Although search and rescue volunteers are no strangers to participating in a variety of training exercises throughout the year, this was the Sundre group’s first major exercise of 2023.

“This was our first, large-scale exercise of the year,” he said. “And it’s the first time we’ve done an urban search scenario for this type of subject.”

The program was made possible in part courtesy of funding from the federal government’s Search and Rescue New Initiatives Funds, which was established in 1988 and is managed by Public Safety Canada in partnership with other federal, provincial and territorial search and rescue organizations.

The last time Sundre SAR conducted a mock search was years ago and that scenario had involved a missing child who never returned home after going out to a playground, Tetreault said.

However, he said the group has previously provided assistance in a search and rescue effort for a senior resident who was reported missing.

“We were called several years ago to Didsbury,” he said. “They had a similar situation with a resident that had walked away from their facility.”

Fortunately, that response had a good outcome, he said, adding the resident had simply gone out for a stroll.

“They were located just wandering around town,” he said.

Stacey Stilling, MVSH chief administrative officer, hailed the May 5-6 training exercise as a “fantastic opportunity for our team” and added in an email response to questions that “the openness and genuine desire for learning from all parties both prior to and during the exercise was truly something remarkable to experience and much detail was taken away by all participants.”

Although MVSH was not required to participate in the active search, staff at the Sundre facility were involved in the tabletop portion of the exercise on May 5, which offered valuable insight “regarding what is most important for us as an organization to know and be able to relay as information to the RCMP, who then call in search and rescue,” said Stilling.

On May 6, MVSH staff identified the “missing” resident and walked through the steps involved in activating processes such as a search of the immediate area and then the entire building, using technology for resident locating in the building, connecting with family and RCMP, as well as supporting affected persons, she said, adding once emergency responders are on the job that it’s a matter of keeping open the lines of communication for updates.

“This exercise gave us an inside look at all of the expertise and resources that are brought in quickly to help,” she said. “In our debrief, all teams noted how beneficial it was to actually start at the facility level and gain insight into seniors housing operations and carry it all the way through as they construct the ‘story’ of the person being searched for.”

Patty McCallum, Sundre SAR secretary, said the Calgary Missing Older Adult Resource Network (CMOARN) – a collective of 14 organizations working together to reduce the incidence and impact of older adults who go missing – also attended to raise awareness about the resources available to families and people at risk.

Simon Ducatel

About the Author: Simon Ducatel

Simon Ducatel joined Mountain View Publishing in 2015 after working for the Vulcan Advocate since 2007, and graduated among the top of his class from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology's journalism program in 2006.
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