Rescue teams were out in force in Sussex woods on Saturday in a massive search operation.
But the ‘search’ was a training exercise by Search Dogs Sussex - formed in 2003 after the disappearance and murder of schoolgirl Sarah Payne - and Sussex Search and Rescue.
Search Dogs Sussex provides nationally qualified search dog teams - all volunteers - to support police and emergency services when looking for vulnerable missing people.
The teams are on call year-round, 24 hours a day and undergo rigorous training, fitting in exercises around their ‘day jobs.’
Watching them in action at Pephurst Wood, Loxwood, on Saturday was Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne who said: “These teams do really important work. They make the difference between life and death.”
She said that around 30 people a day go missing across Sussex “so you can see the pressure it puts on police resources.”
Sussex Deputy Chief Constable Jo Shiner said: “We are so grateful to all of the volunteers who help to release our officers to do other things.”
Search Dogs Sussex spokesman Darren Yeates said Saturday’s event “was attended by over 40 search volunteers who successfully searched for and located two ‘missing’ people.”
Their team currently has 21 human and eight dog volunteers who are capable of deploying at any time of day or night, in all weather conditions and terrain.
On average they are called upon for help 25-30 times a year, commonly searching for people with mental health problems, dementia and learning disabilities.
They train one day a week in a variety of rural locations across Sussex.
The dogs are particularly valued because they use scent to locate missing people which means they can find people who are out of sight.
Search Dogs Sussex is a charity, receiving no Government funding and relies solely on donations and sponsorship to keep the team operational.