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Revisiting the SARex Exercise

In late April of this year two members of the SARINOR WP7 project participated in the SARex Exercise. The key focus for the exercise was to conduct a pilot study to reveal potential gaps between existing rescue equipment and the new demands of the Polar Code.

Project leader Odd Jarl Borch and project advisor Johannes Schmied were aboard the KV Svalbard - Norwegian Coast Guard, for around a week. During which they partook in different exercise elements, with a keen focus on the aspect of competence related to evacuation, rescue equipment, survival in life rafts and life boats, as well as the management of a search and rescue operation. The researchers from NORD University were particularly impressed by the professional handling of the SAR on scene-coordinator role by the KV Svalbard master and officers. The Norwegian Coast Guard has developed a «best practice» that may serve as a standard for OSC training world wide.

The Polar Code is a proposed binding international framework to protect the twopolar regions—Arctic (north pole region) and Antarctic (south pole region)—from maritime risks.
The Polar Code includes information on equipment, how vessels should be prepared, and offer guidelines for crew responsibilities. During the SARex exercise, the main focus was to test different survival suits and lifeboats/rafts. The tests revealed how long it would take for people to be overly exposed to the cold and freezing environment in the Arctic region. The Polar Code stems from previous IMO documents, including voluntary guidelines in both 2002 and 2010.
Johannes Schmied emphasizes the need for improved emergency training for crews traversing in polar waters. He strongly believes all crew should receive some basic safety education, even the cooks and the cleaners. There should also be more information available for passengers. When asked about which other areas Schmied feels should warrant more attention, he focuses on the importance of clear role & responsibility awareness during rescue operations. The interactions between oncoming rescue ships and the on scene coordinator (OSC), tensions among people, uncertainties and hierarchy are issues he feels should sanction more training and exercises. Schmied suggests the creation of more tabletop exercises as one method of improving these issues.
Check out this timelapse video recorded from KV Svalbard during SARex.
Sarinor WP7 is the seventh work package of the SARiNOR Project on Search and Rescue in the High North. Considering the importance for international cooperation for best possible preparation for Search and Rescue Operations also the Sarinor WP7 team is international. Universities and Research Institutes from Norway, Russia and Canada will provide a detailed analysis defining the gaps and recommending actions for training, studies- and competence development for SAR-Operations in the High North.
Experiences from real incidents and exercises show that there is a need for more focus on competence accumulation and exchange between sectors including common standards, tailor-made training, and exercise schemes for the personnel involved in a SAR operation. This is especially the case in large-scale incidents involving mass rescue operations (MRO) where combined efforts and close cooperation across companies, institutions and across borders are needed.
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