More than 10,000 people get reported missing in Kent every year. For the most vulnerable of these people the Police can call upon our team of 100 fully trained and dedicated volunteer members at any time, day or night, on any day of the year, to help find them.
Operation Concern is an innovative new project which has been set up to try and reach people before they get to the crisis point of going missing.
About Kent Search and Rescue
We've been providing Search and Rescue services to the people of Kent for more than 20 years, and can deploy a range of specialists such as dog handlers, kayakers, power boat operators, mountain bikers, water rescue specialists and drone operators to work alongside our team of search technicians. These dedicated volunteers are all co-ordinated by our own highly trained and expert search managers who work very closely with Kent Police to locate and provide support to vulnerable people, as swiftly as possible after they have gone missing.
As our skills and experience at working with vulnerable people has developed over the years, and as we've built very close and effective working relationship with Kent Police, together we identified where our Search and Rescue team could further help people in low risk, non-life threatening situations. In consultation with the Police, we designed an innovative new project called Operation Concern. This project, the first of its kind in the UK, uses the skills and experience of the Search and Rescue Team, to support the Police with low risk 999 calls. The calls that our team respond to are typically those where there is a concern about a vulnerable person's welfare and we know our team's first aid skills, including mental health first aid, and experience of dealing with vulnerable people in distress will make a difference.
After a very successful pilot, we now need funding to help get this vital project off the ground and operational. Our team relies entirely on donations to keep going, and this project is no different. We do not receive any funding from Government, Local Authority or the Police - although Kent Police are very supportive and provide us with space at their HQ and have pledged to donate two vehicles if we can get this project going.
How does Operation Concern work?
Operation Concern is the first initiative of its kind in the UK and involves two crews of two KSAR personnel attending welfare calls made to Kent Police. These calls will typically be made by either the person themselves, or more often, by concerned relatives, friends and neighbours. The KSAR crew will attend the location of the vulnerable person, find the person and provide immediate assistance. The assistance could involve medical first aid, mental health first aid and/or compassionate and empathetic support and advice. All of our team have been trained in all aspects of dealing with this type of call. The main objectives are to provide assistance to vulnerable people and those with a high risk of doing harm to themselves including suicide, with the aim of reducing the number of people who might later consider suicide, or become a high risk missing person. This enables Kent Police to concentrate more of their resources on criminal activity while the vulnerable person receives attention and a response to their call more quickly than if relying solely on Police resources.
To support the development of Operation Concern and to ensure its sustainability over a longer period of time we intend to deliver the project in the following way;
Kent Police are very kindly donating two vehicles which we would be able to dedicate to this operation. This enables KSAR to allocate other existing vehicles solely to the purpose of providing search and rescue operations across Kent and avoids having to prioritise one operation over the other at busy times. These vehicles will require first aid kit, lights and branding. KSAR have identified around 30 volunteers from the wider team who have the requisite skillset, attributes and are committed to the ongoing delivery of Operation Concern. These individuals have been selected due to their abilities at dealing with people in distress, with mental health issues and at risk of suicide, combined with technical skills in first aid and driving. Two, two-person crews will be in two vehicles responding to calls from all over Kent, coordinated by two people situated in Kent Police's Force Control Room. These control operatives have been selected on their ability to prioritise requests for support based on urgency and identifying risk factors. Operation Concern would be delivered weekly on Sundays from 08:30hrs to 14:00hrs. This is a time when Police resources are more stretched than during the week, and our volunteers have more regular availability. We are also considering bank holidays. Our team review the performance of the Operation Concern on a monthly basis where we discuss operations including learning points from any of the calls made, logistical challenges and opportunities to develop the service based on the needs of the individuals we are helping.
We ran a pilot of Operation Concern and here are two very different examples of our impact.
We received a call to check on the welfare of a elderly lady who her Son had been trying to call without any luck. He was receiving treatment for cancer at the Royal Marsden and so was unable to check on her himself and was very stressed and anxious by the situation. Our Operation Concern crew attended her house as swiftly as possible and found her on the floor. She had been laying there for 16 hours and was cold and bruised. Without our crew visiting her when they did she may well have died. They reassured and looked after her until the ambulance came.
No two shifts are the same on Operation Concern as our pilot project identified and here is another example of our work;
A man called police to say he was concerned about his disabled father who had been upset that his parking bay was constantly being used by a neighbour. He was concerned his father was struggling to park and walk to his house.
Our crew visited the father and checked on his welfare. He was fine and happy to see the Operation Concern crew who also spoke to the neighbour about the parking issue which was immediately resolved. Our controller then called the son back to let him know that his father was safe and well and that he should be able to park in his parking bay from now on. The son said “Thank you for taking the time to check on my dad, I live a long way from him and was really concerned about his welfare. I really appreciate you checking on him and making sure he’s OK”.
What we would use the funds for
We need funding to continue Operation Concern and to equip the two donated vehicles with high visibility markings, emergency lights and first responder medical kits (which include entonox, oxygen and a defibrillator). We will also use the funding to produce a high quality information pack for the people that we assist.
Based on feedback from some of the vulnerable people we have assisted during our search operations, we would also like to produce a more effective information pack to provide the people we help. To design and produce this information pack we would like to form a focus group, through a relevant voluntary sector organisation or Kent Council service, where we will use the outcome to inform the design and content of the pack. Some of the funding would be used to facilitate the focus group (room hire if needed) and produce a new Operation Concern information pack. We would also aim to regularly consult with the focus group on our activities and operations to seek feedback on our approach in order to continuously ensure that Operation Concern is meeting the needs of the people it is designed to support. This pack will contain information about services relevant to their needs and places where they are likely to get further support. We are aiming at involving people locally with lived experience to help us put these packs together.
Operation Concern impact
Over the course of a year we would hope to have assisted at least 500 vulnerable people, many of whom would have had to wait significantly longer to have been seen by the emergency services increasing the likelihood of them doing harm to themselves, other people, or, for whatever the situation they find themselves in becoming worse. Ultimately, we hope to reach people before they end up in a situation where they get reported missing.