An all-volunteer search and rescue team is staging near Tampa, ready to assist first responders to save lives during Hurricane Ian.
Gulf Search and Rescue, also known as GulfSAR, is a self-funded nonprofit made up of volunteers from around the country — all of whom are certified flood and swift water specialists.
The rescue group was called in to assist Florida’s Office of Emergency Management. Crews, boat, and personal watercraft arrived early Tuesday morning, and as Ian makes landfall, GulfSAR will have about a dozen rescuers in place and ready near Tampa for all emergencies, including rising water and swift water scenarios.
News4JAX spoke to GulfSAR’s founder, Jake Stovall, who’s leading his team of rescuers on the ground right now. Stovall says, while his crews coordinate, residents expecting dangerous impacts from Ian can prepare now by downloading the GulfSAR app and filling out their information. It’s available for both Android and iPhone.
Stovall says, once the storm hits, people can open the GulfSAR app and hit the “Request Help” button. It’s only to be used in a real emergency because the app calls 911 and alerts rescuers simultaneously. Stovall says it’s lifesaving because only one click is needed to request help and then the app provides first responders with the crucial information that the person previously filled out — pinpointing the person’s location within 10 feet.
Stovall says the app worked very well during the recent Kentucky floods when GulfSAR volunteers were brought in to help get residents to safety.
He says, since the nonprofit was founded in 2020, his group of volunteers has responded to widespread disasters, as well as personal rescue missions. All of its volunteers have a specialty that includes certified flood and swift water technicians, K9 handlers, rope technicians, ground specialists and confined space technicians.
In all, GulfSAR has responded to more than 46 disasters in more than 15 states and has assisted in more than 4,000 rescues.