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North Shore Rescue gets approval to use night-vision technology for searches by air

Last Updated Dec 11, 2020 at 12:05 pm PST

FILE - Search and Rescue helicopter. (Mike Lloyd, NEWS 1130 Photo)

Night searches will soon be possible for North Shore Rescue crews taking part in a B.C. pilot project

Pilot project will allow North Shore Rescue to use night-vision technology in the air

Night-vision capabilities expected to help extend search times for North Shore Rescue

NORTH VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – North Shore Rescue will soon be able to look for people in the dark as part of a pilot project that will see teams use night-vision imaging systems.

The technology has been restricted to “official organizations,” such as police or military. However, B.C. has made changes to allow search and rescue groups to use the technology too.

“It’s been a long journey for Talon Helicopters and North Shore Rescue,” says Mike Danks, team leader for North Shore Rescue.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in the amount of calls that had been coming in on an annual basis. And when we actually looked at the data, it clearly showed that 37 per cent of our calls were coming in an hour before darkness or after darkness, which is a pretty significant amount and that really puts pressure on our team to respond in a heightened fashion to try to beat sunset. This is going to take that pressure off now.”

The plan will see North Shore Rescue teams — and others in B.C. that apply — use night-vision goggles while in the air.

These capabilities will mean SAR crews can use a helicopter day or night, allowing North Shore Rescue to get people to safety “in a timely fashion.”

As part of the night-vision imaging system, Danks says members in a helicopter will be outfitted with special goggles while in the aircraft.

“The aircraft has to be specifically calibrated for night-vision goggles, so the instrumentation is all slightly modified,” he explains.

A long road to night-vision 

The province hopes to gather data through this pilot project that will help determine how important night-vision capabilities can be in search and rescue operations.

Danks says it’s been a long road for North Shore Rescue members. With a rising number of calls coming in later in the day, he says the push for the night-vision imaging system has never been greater.

“Our members are feeling very supported at this time because this is something we’ve been striving to attain along with Talon Helicopters for over three years now,” he tells NEWS 1130. “I think this is really going to make operations safer for our members and for the subjects that we rescue.”

The province says it approved North Shore Rescue’s application to the pilot program in part “due to the proximity of its response area to a large urban centre.” Danks notes the team will likely be able to start using the night-vision technology on Dec. 12.

North Shore Rescue is one of the busiest volunteer search and rescue groups across all of North America. Danks says the team is still on track for a record-breaking year.

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The number of low-light responses its teams are called out to and the type of terrain the SAR members operate in are also factors for the province’s decision.

“This pilot project is the first of its kind in Canada for volunteer search and rescue groups, and I look forward to being able to provide search and rescue experts another tool to make their job safer and easier,” Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says.

The pilot project will be reviewed on an ongoing basis.