Charge for Search and Rescue?
The following is a guest post from Peter Crane, President of the New Hampshire Outdoor Council, a non-profit organization that provides funding support to agencies and organizations which are involved in backcountry safety education and in search and rescue activities in the Granite State.
Charge for search and rescue? Set up a state-run insurance plan for search and rescue? These are not ideas that the New Hampshire Outdoor Council (NHOC) is keen about.
Like the Mountain Rescue Association, the NHOC is concerned that charging for rescues may have unintended consequences. Will those without insurance fear a big bill, and delay a call for help until it can’t be avoided – putting subjects, and rescuers, at greater risk due to darkness and storm? Will those with insurance be too quick to call for assistance even when it really isn’t needed?
The search and rescue (SAR) bills in New Hampshire have for too long been shouldered by a few groups: OHRV and snowmobile riders and boaters, supplemented when needed by hunters and anglers. Hikers are a group that add to SAR costs in the state, and should be chipping to the State’s SAR fund. Those costs, though, would be significantly greater if not for the efforts of 200 or more outdoorspeople – most of them hikers – who serve as organized SAR volunteers.
The general sense of these volunteers is not supportive of directly charging for search and rescue. They know that volunteer motivation can be varied, and is likely to be adversely affected if fee-for-rescue comes into play. They typically see their service as similar to police or fire service – as public goods which are provided by the community at large to the community at large. Giving the people they help a bill – or requiring insurance to avoid a bill – does not appeal to them.
These volunteers know that a large and growing proportion of lengthy, expensive searches can be attributed to non-recreational subjects – young children, confused seniors, others with mental impairments, and even crime victims. A fee/insurance system designed with hikers in mind doesn’t really address this broader issue, and would leave Fish and Game still scrambling to balance its SAR budget.
What do we suggest instead? One, recognize the service which Fish and Game provides to the State as a whole and provide some general fund support for their critical role in search and rescue. Two, develop the expectation that if you may rely on SAR support someday, you have an obligation to bolster those resources through voluntary contributions. A voluntary system could raise significant funds without creating the extra burdens of making Conservation Officers insurance agents and bill-senders.