In 2015, Emergency Management BC (EMBC) received funding from the National SAR Secretariat New Initiatives Fund (NIF) for a two-year project to update the rope rescue program for British Columbia SAR groups, which was developed in the 1980s and 1990s but had not been significantly updated since 2002. Original project Milestones or objectives and target completion dates for fiscal 2015/16 were:

  1. Conduct a process to locate and contract Project Manager. Survey techniques and equipment used in the broader rope community. (June 30, 2015)
  2. Research or test techniques and equipment. Select preferred “default’ techniques and equipment. (September 30, 2015)
  3. 3-day workshop to examine delivery model options. Draft terms of reference for development of curriculum. (December 31, 2015)
  4.  Develop a curriculum or a set of curricula that will address provincially consistent entry level training, specialized skills training and team leadership training appropriate to the selected delivery model (March 31, 2016).

Milestone 1

For various reasons, the Project Management contract was not awarded until the end of September 2015, necessitating a very compressed timetable to ensure that Year 1 funding could be used efficiently before the March 31, 2016 fiscal year end. The survey to gather information on equipment and techniques in use and proposed was circulated on September 26 to an initial e-mail distribution list of some 70 names, including the BC SAR Association, JIBC Rope Rescue Instructors, commercial trainers, educational institutions, federal and provincial agency representatives and other interested parties. The 26 responses received were further supplemented by information from subject matter experts.

Most SAR rope teams are using techniques and equipment from the current Rope Rescue Team Member Manual, but are aware of two-tensioned rope systems and believe they may be an advancement on current techniques. A number of teams have trained in two-tensioned rope system use and a few are using the systems operationally.

Several more specialized teams (cave and mountain rescue) are using somewhat different techniques and equipment appropriate to their needs. The general sense was that the competencies addressed in the current RRTM manual and curriculum provide a solid base for BC SAR rope rescue that may require relatively little change beyond addressing two-tensioned systems and new information obtained from project test results.

Milestone 2

The project was fortunate to obtain the internationally recognized rope rescue expertise of Basecamp Innovations Ltd. (Kirk Mauthner & associates) on the equipment and techniques testing and research contract commencing in November 2015. Intensive testing through the next three months led to a number of recommendations for changes to the current EMBC rope rescue systems, two of which reversed several previous understandings.

Two-Tensioned Rope Systems (TTRS) were proven to have a higher level of safety than Dedicated Main, Dedicated Belay (DMDB) systems in terms of sharp edge resistance, lower maximum arrest forces (MAF) and shorter stopping distances, as well as performing equally to or better than DMDB systems in a variety of other respects. On TTRS lowering systems, it was found that a “failsafe” device such as a prusik in conjunction with a descent control device (DCD) was reliable only when placed upstream of the DCD. In addition to these significant findings, a number of recommendations supported by testing and research were presented on the other topics raised in the survey.

Milestone 3

A workshop was convened in Kamloops over the weekend of March 11-13 with 35 participants familiar with the SAR rope rescue program training and delivery around the province (mostly current rope rescue instructors), as well as representatives of commercial rope training providers, the JIBC, EMBC, the testing contractor and the curriculum contractor.

Following presentation and discussion of the testing results and a review of the draft competencies matrix for rope rescue, based on the model used for Swiftwater Rescue, the workshop considered training delivery models. A discussion paper suggested four options as a starting point:

  1. the current model (20 hour course, 20 hours practice, 20 hour evaluation);
  2. a “condensed” model (one 60 hour course ending in certification);
  3. a commercial model (all training delivered by commercial trainers as in the Swiftwater Rescue program);
  4. and a “mixed” model (basic team member level training delivered internally primarily by SAR volunteers with more advanced training obtained externally from commercial or academic trainers).

Four breakout groups firmed up evaluation criteria and compared options. All concluded that some version of the mixed model offered the greatest flexibility to accommodate varying regional and team needs. Further discussion explored ways of ensuring that the training program would maintain consistency, ensure and track continuing competency and provide for ongoing updating of the curriculum. Finally, the workshop considered how best to introduce the technological changes from the testing to current SAR rope practitioners and how to transition from the current training delivery model to the updated curriculum and the mixed delivery model.

Milestone 4

Working from the survey advice that the current team member curriculum was essentially sound but in need of updating and better supporting materials, EMBC requested curriculum development proposals in December. It was fortunate once again to be able to engage in January a very well qualified contractor prepared to deliver an updated curriculum within the fiscal year. The workshop recommended that the curriculum be built around “competency modules” that would offer the flexibility of delivery individually or in combinations appropriate to a variety of needs.

With much of the curriculum subject matter roughed out, the contractor was able to take direction from the workshop results that proposed a structure similar to that in Swiftwater Rescue (Awareness, Operations, Technician, Advanced Technician, Team Leader). Following the “mixed” delivery model, Awareness competencies training was conceived as being delivered online or by a volunteer mentor, and Operations competencies primarily by SAR volunteer instructors with an option to use external training providers.

Technician competencies training would rely primarily on external providers while Team Leader and Instructor competencies would be obtained through courses already developed by external providers. With the Awareness level relatively simple, this structure enabled the curriculum development team in the limited time before fiscal year end to focus intensively on curriculum for the Operations level and aspects of the Technical level that together constituted the backbone of the current Team Member training.


Thanks to the dedication and cooperation of everyone involved, all Year 1 Milestones have been substantially completed within the fiscal year.

Moving forward with milestones for the coming fiscal year, in April, EMBC will be issuing Requests for Proposals to develop instructional tools supporting the new curriculum and to develop and deliver “train the trainer” courses based on the 2016 EMBC Rope Rescue Technical Manual produced by the curriculum contractor.

Ross Cloutier, Tom Volkers, Phil Whitfield
Project Management Team
NIF BC SAR Rope Rescue Update Project