Search and rescue 101
FFA Camp hosts training seminar

COVINGTON - Public safety officials and volunteers are attending the second annual search and rescue conference and training seminar this week at the Newton County Future Farmers of America Camp.

According to Kim Hatcher, spokesman for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the DNR - which has the largest search and rescue team in the state - and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency are hosting the conference to provide various public safety agencies, as well as many volunteers, with the knowledge that will aid them in future recoveries of missing persons.

"It's extremely important for search and rescue personnel to be prepared for any level of seriousness," she said. "That's why this group of people ranges from beginners to experienced professionals."

More than 100 people from various Georgia and North Carolina public safety agencies signed up for the conference, according to Hatcher. The agencies represented at the conference, which runs from Thursday through Sunday, include sheriffs' offices, fire departments and emergency management agencies.

"We feel it's important to have the best search and rescue team," said Susan Andes, a member of Friends, which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to

helping support the DNR search and rescue team.

Andes - who is also a member of K-9 search and Rescue Specialists Inc., also known as SARDOGS - said that one of the most important goals of the conference is to help volunteers learn how to develop relationships with public safety officials and other volunteers from across the state.

On Thursday, many canine handlers and their partners, ranging in levels of expertise, took part in tracking and human remains detection exercises.

"(Canines) are a unique resource. Their ability to detect things is far superior to our own senses, and in utilizing these resources, we can save officials a lot of time, money and personnel," said Tracy Sargent, a volunteer with SARDOGS who was conducting the training.

Sargent has worked with dogs in public safety for the past 15 years and she, along with her 21â "2-year-old black German Shepherd Cinco, recently helped aid in the search for missing Union County hiker Meredith Emerson.

Sargent teaches handlers how to work with their dogs as a team in whatever type of search they are conducting.

"Ultimately, when handlers and their canine partners are ready, they can go and assist with searches such as Ms. Emerson's," she said.

Though canine tracking and detection is one of the most appealing classes being offered at the conference, there are numerous others that help officials deal with various other types of rescue scenarios.

Some of the other classes being offered at the conference include:

· ATV operation;

· GPS and compass use;

· high angle evacuation (rescue from the side of a mountain or cliff);

· canine tracking and human remains detection;

· man tracking (tracking by people, as well as dogs);

· wilderness survival;

· helicopter safety;

· cave rescue;

· and swift water rescue.

Hatcher said that DNR search and rescue volunteers appreciate and welcome donations, because there are many things, such as rope or medical equipment, that they purchase at their own expense.

To find out more about how you can donate or volunteer, you can visit friendsofgastateparks.org or call 770-975-7533.

Joel Griffin can be reached at joel.griffin@newtoncitizen.com.