30 November 2009

CBC SAR story grossly misleading

A CBC story on search and rescue off Newfoundland and Labrador seriously misrepresents the conclusions of a study conducted by air operational research and analysis staff of the Canadian Forces.

CBC’s online story claims in its title that “St. John’s [is the] best SAR base for oil: DND”. 

The story also claimed that:

The 2000 report for DND, titled The Impact of Offshore Oil Operations on East Coast Search and Rescue, questioned whether Gander was the best location for DND to base its Cormorant SAR helicopters.

But the report itself -  linked on the same CBC web page  - tells a very different story. Incidentally, the report, really just the slides and notes for a presentation, is also erroneously dated 2003 in the pdf version title even though the document clearly comes from December 2000. 

A detailed version apparently released in 2001 is mentioned at the end of the slides but CBC makes no reference to it in either the on air or on line stories.

The DND report looked at the impact offshore oil-related flights might have on search and rescue services.  It did not question “whether Gander was the best location” for search and rescue service in Newfoundland and Labrador.   The goal of the research was to determine what impact – if any – offshore flights to oil rigs would have on search and rescue service

In order to conduct the study, the researchers reviewed information on search and rescue performance generally in eastern Canada.  They then projected the potential impact of offshore helicopter operations.  They used several scenarios to try and forecast the potential impact  because, as the study notes, there was only two to three years of data on which to base experience.

As it turned out the DND study, like offshore board projections, grossly over-estimated the number of crashes in the offshore.

The conclusions – listed clearly on Slide 37 of the presentation – show that Gander is clearly the optimal location of search and rescue service based on a number of factors including weather. 

While the modelling used in the report appeared to show St. John’s as a better location for what it terms “Cougar-related” incidents,  “since incident rates for Cougar will probably be quite small, the analysis performed on the historic data should prove greater utility in a direct comparison of Gander with St. John’s.” 

In other words, because Cougar was unlikely to have a high number of incidents, the overall experience operating from a permanent base in Gander would likely tip the scales in favour of the continued use of Gander as the operating base.