Page updated: 11 December 2020
This section provides an overview of who benefits from search and rescue operations and where these operations tend to take place. It also explains how demand for search and rescue changes (or more to the point, usually doesn't) over time.
The figure below shows that there are generally more SAR operations driven by land and sea situations, than by aviation problems.
It is also suggests that in ‘normal’ (i.e. non-COVID-19) times, demand is pretty stable over time.
In their publication “There and Back”, the Mountain Safety Council (MSC) have comprehensively analysed the key factors driving demand for search and rescue operations on land. Some of the key insights from their analysis are listed at the bottom of this section.
Key point: Falling while in remote areas, drowning while crossing a river, and getting freezing cold are the most dangerous things to happen to most people in the outdoors!
The most dangerous places were in the south island (when measured by fatality), but the highest rate of people needing search and rescue is in the central north island (Ruapehu and the Taupo districts).
It is particularly telling that in this area, 80% of the search and rescue operations involved only one person (which suggests it’s best to always participate outdoors with a friend!). The same trend applies in Queenstown-Lakes with 82% of the search and rescues involving one person. However, there is a much higher fatality rate there, with 15 people dying there between July 2007 and December 2014, of which 13 were due to falling.
In addition to its work close to the New Zealand mainland, significant effort is put into both coordinating and often directly providing search and rescue across the broader NZ Search and Rescue region. This region stretches all the way from Antarctica to the Pacific Islands.
We can learn more by looking at how demand has changed over a longer timeframe.
Extending the time series back ten years, we can see that the total number of SAR operations has mostly slowly tracked upwards in line with population growth.
(NZSAR Annual reports 2008/09 – 2018/19)
While demand has grown at a relatively stable rate over the last 10 years, it is important to avoid so-called ‘straight line extrapolation’ about the future.
As COVID-19 has demonstrated well, it is unwise to simply place a ruler on the trend lines and assume they will continue. This is the case, even when there is no pandemic occuring.