On Wednesday morning, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and the City of Destin held a joint press conference to debut the new Aqua Alert notification system. Aqua Alert is missing boater public alert notification system that was developed to aid in the search for missing/endangered boaters and kayakers.
- It is being launched as the result of a collaborative effort between the City of Destin, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and the Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners.
- Residents can download the OCSO’s Official app from the App Store and turn on the “Aqua Alert” notification.
The Aqua Alert concept was conceived by Minnesota resident Judy Schink after her husband, 61-year old Dave Schink, disappeared while kayaking in the Gulf of Mexico February 13th, 2021. During a search and rescue operation, Dave’s kayak was discovered twenty miles offshore but sadly, he was never located.
“A year-and-a-half ago, my husband went paddling much on a beautiful day like today and his paddle broke,” said Mrs. Schink during the recent Okaloosa Commissioners meeting. “He got washed out to sea and was lost and we never got the opportunity to see him again. Had we been able to alert boats in the Harbor, he may have been saved.”
- Schink says it was her son that came up with the idea of having an Aqua Alert to notify boaters, much like the Amber Alert notifies drivers to be more situationally aware.
Before the alert is sent out, Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office will take all reasonable actions to ensure the search and rescue of missing boaters. However, when boaters meet certain criteria, they will be entered into the Aqua Alert tab of the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Smart Phone Application that will then be pushed out to subscribers.
“In today’s world, when there’s an incident on the water, the Coast Guard is usually called either through 911 or the Coast Guard themselves,” said Destin Mayor Gary Jarvis. “As they’re working through the verification process, they will put out a notice to Mariners to tell people keep their eyes and ears open while they’re on the water, because there may be a swimmer in the water or an incident in their general area.”
Mayor Jarvis explained that this notification goes out on radio channel 16, a channel that not everyone uses.
“We have renters or even charter boat captains that are not on channel 16,” he added. “Everybody has a smartphone and if you’re in range of cell coverage, this program, if you sign up for it through the Sheriff’s Office and using their app, will just put that many more eyes and ears on the water. Not necessarily to go and participate in a search and rescue, but just to be aware that there’s something amiss in their immediate area.
- “It will make a difference in somebody, if not their life, at least in their recovery,” he said.
Here’s how it works:
When the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office is made aware of a missing boater, a Deputy will be dispatched to contact the reporting person. Once it is confirmed the boater is missing, the following will occur:
- Notify the Special Operations Lieutenant or Sergeant.
- Notify the United States Coast Guard and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
- If safe conditions exists, the Special Operations Lieutenant or Sergeant will initiate a search and rescue.
- The supervisor will notify the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer for media notification.
According to the OCSO Policy Guide, Law Enforcement must conduct a preliminary investigation in which the agency has concluded that the disappearance poses a credible threat to the person’s welfare and safety. That’s when the following will take place:
- The missing/endangered person(s) must be entered into FCIC/NCIC and a USCG PAN-PAN should be issued.
- Contact has been made with the PIO for media notification.
- A sufficient description of the missing person and/or vessel must be obtained.
- A last known location of the person and/or launch location with a travel plan must be known. This is to ensure the report and Aqua Alert is documenting an actual missing person/vessel.
When that criteria is met, the Okaloosa County Communications Center will be advised to create an Aqua Alert notification.
It’s important to note that this is not a distressed swimmers notification system. This system is intended for vessels and occupants of vessels that are in distress, according to Sheriff Eric Aden.
- “We have confined area for most of our distressed swimmers and have procedures in place for that,” he added.”
“Okaloosa County is home to some of the most popular boating areas in the U.S.,” Aden said. “Having a rapid way to get out detailed information when a life is in danger will mean potentially thousands of additional eyes on the water to help.”