10/20/2012 06:38 EDT | Updated 12/20/2012 05:12 EST

Crews hone urban rescue skills

Urban search and rescue teams from across the country were in Vancouver today learning to save people in the event of an earthquake.

Teams from Alberta and Manitoba participated in simulation rescues along with Lower Mainland fire departments.

Vancouver fire Chief John McKearney says urban rescues differ from other searches because of the conditions in a city.

"The primary skills for heavy urban search and rescue which distinguishes it is they are skilled in heavy lift, in breach and break," he said.

"So we're dealing with heavy cement columns, with technical search using cameras in tunnels, using cameras that can pick up life, we have a canine squad with five dogs."

But the federal government is ending funding for the Joint Emergency Preparedness Program next year.

Vancouver's Heavy Urban Search and Rescue team says that makes up about a third of its finances, which will make it hard to equip and co-ordinate rescue efforts.

"If the federal government is not going to be a funding partner any longer, that will slowly recede and we'll be back to where we were 10 years ago," McKearney said.

NDP safety critic Kathy Corrigan says search and rescue crews need proper funding in case of a major disaster.

"When you have that [a disaster], you want to have people ready, to have them well trained and co-ordinated," she said. "And it's really concerning to the public and a concern about public safety."

Provincial officials say they are trying to convince the federal government training drills like the one conducted Saturday are worth the money.

"We understand that the funding cuts are planned," said Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid. "I know my colleague [Public Safety] Minister Bond has spoken with Minister Toews federally to ask about this decision being reversed."

The federal government has defended the cuts, saying the funding is a provincial responsibility.