- In Canada, except within federally owned National Parks, the overall responsibility for land and inland water search and rescue (SAR) rests with the provinces, territories and municipalities.
- Typically this responsibility is delegated to the police force of jurisdiction, which is the RCMP in all provinces and territories, except Ontario and Quebec, and in various municipalities.
- To provide SAR services in the most effective and cost efficient manner, the RCMP places special emphasis on response, interdepartmental co-operation, prevention and volunteers.
- RCMP SAR Coordinators ensure regional issues, including policy, training and resources are promptly addressed. Each province or territory served by the RCMP has a SAR coordinator.
- Detachment Commanders ensure complaints of lost or overdue persons are promptly investigated and a Lost/Missing Person Report is compiled. A SAR-trained RCMP Search Commander is appointed and a search is initiated.
- RCMP Search Commanders assume overall on-site authority for organizing and managing the actual search.
- The assistance of a SAR-trained volunteer civilian Search Manager and SAR trained volunteers may be requested.
Initial SAR responses may involve one or more of the following:
- Police Service Dog Team
- Trained volunteer SAR civilian dog team
- Trained volunteer or RCMP Hasty Teams
- RCMP helicopter equipped with Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR)
- Trained volunteer "specialist" teams (avalanche, white water, ice rescue, etc.)
- Trained volunteer SAR divers (although most areas use RCMP Dive Teams)
- Trained human trackers and other SAR trained persons.
Subsequent or more concentrated searches may involve the use of:
- SAR-trained volunteer teams, which conduct open or closed grid searches;
- the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA), or other provincial agencies with SAR capabilities; or
- the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary (CCGA) in the case of inland water searches.
- The minimum training requirement for RCMP Search Commanders is a basic SAR and SAR management course.
- The standard used is based on principles developed by U.S.-based Emergency Response Institute (ERI), and the U.S. National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR).
- Canadian courses that meet these standards include, but are not limited to the Provincial Emergency Program in British Columbia and the Emergency Measures Organization in the Yukon.
- The RCMP also offers sessions on SAR at the recruit training level, as well as on Detachment Commander training courses.
RCMP Divisions have formal written agreements within each provincial or territory as well as with other applicable federal departments.
The agreements clarify the roles of:
- the Civilian Air Search & Rescue Association (CASARA);
- the Canadian Marine Rescue Association (CMRA);
- the Canadian Parks Service;
- the Departments of Forestry and Natural Resources; as well as
- Workers Compensation Coverage for volunteers and other government and non-governmental agencies with an interest in SAR and provincial expectations or standards for SAR volunteers.
On a national level, the RCMP works closely with the National Search and Rescue Secretariat, which has developed the National Search and Rescue Plan (NSP). The NSP's objective is to save lives by through prevention and effective and affordable SAR services.
The RCMP is also an active participant on the Interdepartmental Committee on Search and Rescue, which includes representatives from DND, CCG, Parks Canada, Fisheries and Oceans, and Environment Canada.
Although individuals are primarily responsible for their own safety, the RCMP has developed a number of new prevention initiatives directed at three target groups: children ages 5-12; special interest groups, and the general public.
- School children are taught how to survive in the woods when lost.
- Videos are used to instill SAR awareness to special interest groups, including two developed by Alberta RCMP.
- Prevention brochures are offered to the general public during police week and during other special occasions, including one entitled "Prepared for the Woods", produced by Emergency Preparedness Canada.
- Properly trained civilian volunteers can be equally as effective as highly trained paid professionals, and are often more readily available.
- When feasible, the RCMP will also assist in the training of volunteers.
- Potential volunteer search managers are encouraged to attend RCMP-sponsored search management courses alongside potential RCMP SAR Commanders.
- The extent of SAR volunteers generally varies by province, according to provincial guidelines, standards, Workers Compensation and local RCMP requirements.
- Provincial standards and certification pre-determine qualifications, especially with volunteer SAR dog teams.
- The Search Commander must ensure both handler and dog will recognize clues and will not destroy evidence, injure the lost person or become lost or injured themselves.