Advanced technology for advanced search and rescue operations

In northern Alberta, drones are improving response and recovery efforts for St. Paul SAR and Cold Lake SAR

Drones—they’re not just for nature videographers anymore.

St. Paul Search & Rescue (SAR) is a local group of SAR Alberta, which is the province’s association for volunteer search and rescue within the province. The fully volunteer-powered organization is part of several provincial SAR teams that provide a superior and dedicated level of service to the people of Alberta.

“Our goal is to locate missing persons, and in the best-case scenario we recover them,” says Ken Gerlinsky, President of St. Paul SAR. “In situations where it has turned out poorly for the victim, our work assists in bringing closure to families and loved ones.”

The St. Paul SAR team works closely and frequently with neighbouring search-and-rescue teams to offer coverage across northeastern Alberta, such as Cold Lake SAR. Calls for support will often be in the form of manpower, equipment, or both.

“Depending on the search, it can sometime morph into a call for 18 to 20 members,” says Robert Tymofichuk, Chief of Operations at St. Paul SAR. “It’s pretty grueling and tough work, but the team does it with smiles on their faces.”

In recent years, investments into drone technology have transformed the way search-and-rescue teams carry out their searches.

“Previously, we would fly the drone, retrieve the video footage from the memory card, plug it into the laptop and review the footage before we could correlate the GPS locations and flight logs,” says Tymofichuk.

“It was a long process, but now the advancements made with drone technology allow us to have real-time GPS information integrated into a live video feed, so search teams can effectively navigate toward objects of interest or a missing person.”

Safe Community First Responder Program

Since its launch, Enbridge's Safe Community program has invested more than US$16.6 million (more than C$21.5 million) in first responder organizations near our pipelines and facilities.

The imaging technology also improves the previous process of communicating verbally via walkie-talkie, saving precious time in times of urgent need.

“A picture is indeed worth a thousand words.”

Enbridge made a $7,500 Fueling Futures donation to St. Paul SAR as part of our Safe Community First Responder Program in late 2021. The financial support helped purchase drone equipment for St. Paul SAR to enhance search and rescue capabilities.

Previously, Enbridge had donated a rescue barge to the nearby Cold Lake Fire Department. The barge played an essential role in a rescue operation this past June when an elderly resident got lost on one of the peninsulas on Cold Lake.

“Without that barge, the mission would have been much more difficult,” says Tymofichuk. “The barge has a fold-down ramp that allowed the team to help the person board the barge and get him to safety.”

St. Paul SAR and its neighbouring SAR teams are ready to be deployed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The combination of passionate volunteers with leaders who pioneer the investment into equipment upgrades, such as drones, prepares the teams for virtually every emergency that comes their way.

“The technological advancements have really changed our operations and outcomes for families.”