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Enhancing Volunteer Services:  Developing Operational and Engagement Strategies for Search and Rescue Alberta

Funder: College and Community Social Innovation Fund, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

Search and Rescue Alberta is a not-for-profit volunteer association supporting more than 30 Search and Rescue teams, including 1500 highly-trained specialist volunteers, across Alberta. Teams work with law enforcement, fire rescue services, emergency medical services, and parks services in their regions, performing searches and rescues for lost people (e.g., children, dementia patients, those at risk of suicide, or lost adventurers) or evidence of crimes (e.g., discarded weapons), and assisting with provincial responses in the case of natural disasters or states of emergency. These services annually provide millions of dollars in infrastructure and salary relief to emergency services in Alberta and engage the local community in the advocacy and maintenance of its own public safety.

This project is community-based, developed collaboratively by Search and Rescue Alberta and NorQuest College, with consultation from the Office of the Fire Commissioner at Alberta Municipal Affairs. Researchers will conduct focus groups and surveys with volunteer Search and Rescue teams across the province and interview local and regional tasking agencies about their use and understanding of Search and Rescue Services. The project goal is to create recommendations to improve the effectiveness of Search and Rescue volunteer services and administration, including with regard to administrative burdens, standardized training, volunteer engagement, volunteer safety, and relationships to the community and stakeholders.

May 2021 update

Data collection has been completed. Between March 2019 and July 2020, the project team conducted 25 focus groups with 165 Search and Rescue volunteers, 16 interviews with the tasking agency representative and two members of Search and Rescue Alberta Executive.

Data from the D4H database that Search and Rescue teams use for managing incidents, personnel, and equipment across all the Search & Rescue teams in Alberta was extracted via autogenerated reports on July 23, 2020. Reports were categorized and merged into three main categories: Member Information, Team Statistics, and Activities Data.

Data analysis has been completed. The project used a participatory action research (PAR) mixed-methods approach to evaluate the delivery of services and identify how training, operational, and administrative standards and processes could be improved. The qualitative data was analyzed using generic thematic analysis, which a statistical analysis was conducted on the quantitative data extracted from the D4H database. Qualitative and quantitative data were analyzed separately and then their findings were considered in tandem to answer the research project questions.

Project products, including report writing, a Search and Rescue toolkit, and a Search and Rescue PowerPoint presentation were developed and sent to key stakeholders for final revisions and feedback. Project products were presented in multiple ways and formats:

  • Search and Rescue Alberta – Research Report
  • Search and Rescue Alberta – Research Report – Appendices
  • Search and Rescue Alberta – Public Report
  • Search and Rescue Alberta - Toolkit “Developing working relationships between a Search and Rescue team and tasking agencies”
  • Search and Rescue Alberta – PowerPoint presentation “Overview of the research cycle, findings, and recommendations”

A journal article and the Search and Rescue graphic novel that are parts of the project’s knowledge dissemination plan are in progress. The purpose of the Search and Rescue graphic novel is to raise public awareness and education about Search and Rescue in Alberta, specifically Search and Rescue volunteers’ valuable contribution to local communities, the province, and public safety. 

Other project information

Project director
  • Dr. Erika Goble
    Associate Dean, Research & Strategic Enrolment,
    NorQuest College

  • Iryna Hurava, MSc