Smári Sigurðsson, director of the Icelandic Association of Search and Rescue (ICE-SAR) states that it is unclear who bears responsibility for the safety of tourists in many of the country’s most popular destinations.
Smári discussed the changing reality of ICE-SAR’s work on RÚV morning radio today. He stated that the number of emergency calls ICE-SAR receives has increased greatly, especially during the summers. Seven to ten years ago, the association received most calls in the wintertime, usually as a result of bad weather. Now, Smári says, “a day does not go by without the search and rescue volunteers being called for a task. Sometimes there are over ten a day.”
According to Smári, the number of calls has risen in correlation to the rising number of tourists. Icelanders, however, also spend more time on outdoor activities than before, which has had an effect. This summer, for example, volunteer groups stationed in the highlands have had to respond to up to 20 calls per day. The main issues are traffic accidents and accidents occurring to individuals venturing outside of marked walking trails. These accidents often occur where basic infrastructure is minimal and emergency response time can be long.
Thanks to increased distribution of information, emergency calls for towing of vehicles stuck on closed or impassable roads have decreased. Smári, however, believes they are still too many.
Smári states it is especially important to clarify the division of responsibilities in regard to tourist safety between tourism service providers, landowners, municipal governments, and others. Though ICE-SAR is staffed by volunteers, more funding is also necessary to respond to the increased demand for services and maintain equipment and tools.