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Time to Start Charging for Search & Rescue?

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Time to Start Charging for Search & Rescue?

Search and rescue services in Iceland

Photo: Páll Stefánsson.

The number of times the 112 emergency line calls out Icelandic search & rescue teams was nearly double in 2014 compared to 2013. ICE-SAR teams reacted to 1,386 such call-outs last year.

Smári Sigurðsson, director of ICE-SAR, has raised the question of how much the country’s unpaid volunteer S&R workers should be leaned upon—especially in rural areas, where the increase has been the fastest. “These teams have seen costs rise rapidly. Though the team members are volunteers, it is a question of if employers and families are okay with their absence,” he told Vísir.

“It’s a question of if these teams in the countryside will sell local citizens more rockets or emergency guys,” he adds—referring to ICE-SAR’s biggest fundraising activities: the sale of New Year’s Eve fireworks, and the sale of plastic figurine keyrings every year. “I think we’ve come as far as we can in that regard.”

Smári says it is clear the rescue charity, which is made up of semi-autonomous squads in most towns and villages, needs more money as the number of call-outs increases. He says the discussion of where this money should come from is one which should take place both within the organization and in wider society.

One proposal is to increasingly charge tourists for the services of rescue teams. He points out that charges are already being applied to tourists that have gone onto closed roads and need their cars pulling out of deep snow. People who have called for help in the highlands without being in real danger are also charged.

Smári says, however, that the best thing to do overall is to lower the number of call-outs by encouraging tourists to be well-prepared, to listen to weather and conditions advice and respect closures.

The reason for the rush of activity between years, according to Smári, was the unusually harsh winter weather, the growing number of foreign tourists, and Icelanders’ increasing interest in outdoor activities. A quarter of all call-outs last year came in December, with 350 emergencies dealt with—a figure far higher than the previous December.

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