Isle of Wight Search and Rescue (WightSAR) are a team of extraordinary volunteers.
They give up their free time to provide 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year cover to support the police with life-saving searches for vulnerable missing people on the Isle of Wight.
These searches can include missing children, people with mental health issues or learning disabilities, those with dementia, or anyone who, at the time of their disappearance, is believed to be at risk of serious harm or worse.
“Searches take place at any time, day or night and in any weather conditions,” said WightSAR chairman and founder Dean Terrett.
“They can last as long as required by the police – sometimes days or weeks at a time. The team only have one aim – to bring a loved one home to their distraught family and friends.”
WightSAR is a member of the Association of Lowland Search and Rescue (ALSAR), who since 1991 have provided voluntary search and rescue services from across the UK. The organisation now has 36 teams and more than 1,800 professionally qualified volunteers. This membership ensures every team is trained and functions to the same high professional standard.
WightSAR also works alongside their colleagues in other emergency services, including the coastguard, RNLI and independent lifeboats, fire and ambulance services.
WightSAR itself was formed in 2011. Before then, since 2008, there had been a HantSAR IRT (Hampshire Search & Rescue Initial Response Team) based here on the Island. This team would conduct immediate searches while the additional resources from Hampshire travelled across The Solent. As the local resources were used more and more, it became apparent something more substantial was required and a dedicated IW inland rescue SAR team was born.
Dean said: “The public often ask why WightSAR hasn’t been deployed to look for a particular missing person but, in reality, we can only be called when that person is deemed high risk and we are deployed at the request of the POLSA, (Police Liaison Search Adviser).
“The team remain in constant communication and remain under the direction of the POLSA throughout the whole search period.
“Search planning is a complex process, resources are not infinite and, therefore, planning is so important for an effective search where every minute could be critical.”
All searches are based on the missing individual’s personal information, plus statistical analysis of the behaviour of missing people, as each category will exhibit different behaviours.
For example, people with dementia rely on memories and will often be at a place they have previously been associated with. WightSAR’s Search Planner will work closely with the Police Lead to inform and define the search in order to maximise the search outcome.
All new WightSAR Volunteers undertake classroom and practical search training prior to undertaking an intensive two-day training to qualify as a Search Technician. This external training is self funded as is the member’s kit and equipment. Volunteers are rewarded by knowing they provide a vital role at a critical time for individuals and loved ones. WightSAR is always looking for new members and application details can be found at www.wightsar.org
“Searches take place at any time, day or night and in any weather conditions”
Secretary and fundraiser Jenny Johnston said: “WightSAR is managed and resourced purely by volunteers and we receive no form of statutory funding. Our group is totally reliant on fundraising and grant applications to deliver this vital service. It is necessary for us to fundraise and we are always looking at new ways to raise the unit’s profile and resource.
“All our volunteers commit to a number of fundraising activities each year, in addition to their operational duties. We are extremely grateful to all of our sponsors and their valued support ensures the team remains operational 24/7.”
There are new and exciting times ahead for WightSAR. The unit has recently received a donation from Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks Resilient Communities Fund enabling them to purchase an off-road vehicle. This will give the team more operational search versatility, as well as allowing WightSAR to deploy in all weather conditions and assist other emergency services as part of the Isle of Wight Emergency Resilience Forum.
Two further generous grants have enabled the purchase of two drones to establish a WightSAR Drone Team with several members now undertaking their SAR Drone Pilot Training. The additional drone resource will be deployed to support searches allowing large, open areas to be rapidly searched. A new digital radio system has been purchased with the second grant, from the Morrisons Foundation, to enable the purchase and installation of an encrypted digital network and 18 personal radios for team members.
WightSAR and Hampshire Constabulary are currently
promoting the Herbert Protocol, a national Dementia scheme encouraging carers to compile and store useful information on a recording form (including photo), which could be used in the event of a vulnerable person going missing. Copies will be available for download at www.wightsar.org. and the group will be visiting all care homes and GP surgeries to encourage them to use the protocol.
Membership officer and fundraiser Elbie Todd added: “All WightSAR members are fully DBS checked and also provide event support , including lost children cover, and educational visits. If you see us at forthcoming events please stop to say hello. The team are always happy to discuss and explain their role and meet members of the public.”
What our volunteers say about us
‘Provides a satisfying challenge’
‘Love being part of a team’
‘Provides a sense of purpose, pride and identity’
‘It’s great to be part of a service that offers vital help to those in need and the whole community’