Search and Rescue volunteers are asking people to stay safe in the back country and not put rescuers at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)

Search and Rescue volunteers are asking people to stay safe in the back country and not put rescuers at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)

Search and Rescue groups urge caution if using back country

If you have doubts about conditions or your possible safety, stay close to home

If you go out in the woods — or into the hills, mountains, or back country — today, you’re being asked to use extra caution: not just when it comes to physical distancing, but so you can make sure you don’t get lost or injured.

The COVID-19 pandemic is putting extra pressure on emergency resources across the province, and the B.C. Search and Rescue (SAR) Association and Emergency Management B.C. are appealing to the public to make sure they don’t inadvertently add even more pressure.

The 2,500 search and rescue volunteers across B.C. respond to calls all over the province to help those who have been lost, stranded, or injured in B.C.’s outdoors. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the risks these volunteers and other personnel take are heightened, as there is a risk of virus transmission during a call. By taking extra precautions, people help reduce the risk to search and rescue volunteers, other responders, and front-line health care workers.

There are a number of standard best outdoor preparation practices anyone venturing out into the back country should always observe. However, there are a few extra points you must consider if you go into the outdoors during the pandemic.

Park access has changed: As of April 8, all B.C. Parks have closed until further notice. For updates on the B.C. Parks situation, check

SAR volunteer levels may fluctuate: The volume and type of SAR responses is also changing, as volunteers deal with their own needs and challenges related to COVID-19. Some areas may see reductions, while others will see increases depending on access, user numbers, and levels of experience.

Physical distancing must be observed, even outside: Physical distancing will help prevent transmission of COVID-19, and that includes when you’re in the outdoors. While it is recognized that physical activity is essential for mental wellbeing in these trying times, the need for physical distance during any activity is more important. Make sure you stay at least two metres apart from others, avoid travelling in groups, visit parks during less busy times, and stay home if you’re sick.

Avalanches are still a threat: Avalanche Canada has ended its forecasting early this year, so it’s probably a good time to stay home and not take a chance, especially if you are unaware of the level of avalanche risk in your area.

Self, Team, Bystanders, and then Subject: Ground Search and Rescue operates within that safety maxim, meaning they will step back from a response if it puts them at undue risk. Should risk of exposure to the responders exceed an acceptable level, a response will be delayed until additional steps can be taken to reduce the risk.

Be prepared to take care of yourself and your family if venturing out into the great outdoors. Go to for more information, but remember that extra caution is needed during this time. If you are not fully prepared for back country risks, then stick to walks in an urban area close to home while maintaining physical distancing.

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