The Changing Face of Search and Rescue
As the digital age moves forward, search organisations continue to be called on by police forces to support emergency services in searching for missing, often vulnerable people. Therefore, the importance of using the right technology to coordinate such efforts can never be understated.
Written by: Rachael Pugh, Partner Marketing & Enablement Panasonic TOUGHBOOK
We’ve all seen dramatic images of mountain rescue operators dangling out of helicopters to pull an injured hiker from a precipice, and videos of ocean rescue teams sailing out to answer an SOS call. But in the United Kingdom, the majority of search and rescue (SAR) operations happen in the spaces between, carried out by one of the 35 Lowland Rescue teams based around the country.
From floods to missing elderly citizens, Lowland Rescue search teams aid the police in finding and protecting missing people, funded entirely by donations and the volunteers themselves. Often covering very large search areas, these teams face a delicate challenge: many of those they are searching for are vulnerable people, those who may not want to be found, or perhaps even individuals who don’t know they are missing.
Digitalising Search and Rescue
The increased capacity for communication, data sharing, and improved operational efficiency brought about by today’s tailored technologies rarely have starker real-world benefits than during an emergency incident, particularly when vulnerable people are involved.
As the digital age moves forward, search organisations must now integrate with police forces and other search and rescue teams to ensure success. When a search takes place, incident response vehicles at the rendezvous point of a particular search are equipped with screens and computers, running situational awareness software and ordnance mapping to monitor the efforts of each team. These developments have an immeasurable impact on search missions, whilst shortening response times for volunteers.
To cover as much ground as possible, SAR teams use all tools at their disposal, bringing together mountain bikes, drone pilots and kayaks, to name just a few. Drones, a newer technology in search efforts, allow operators to survey a far wider search area than those on foot can, but with SAR organisations relying on self-funding, the technology and the piloting certifications can be costly.
Traditional methods are also utilised. A dog’s exceptional sense of smell makes them the perfect search partner. Search dogs use an air-scenting technique, and the full team, including dogs, undergo constant training culminating in a repeat assessment every 2 years. It is estimated a single search dog is the equivalent of 20 foot-searchers (and far more in poor conditions). As digital transformation takes hold, the most effective approaches to a SAR mission combine the best of technology and traditional methods.
Mobilising Man’s Best Friend
Recently, Panasonic donated three TOUGHBOOK 33 devices to Search Dogs Sussex, a team of dedicated dogs and handlers who have been donating their time to support Police services since 2003. Search Dogs Sussex is one of the UK’s largest search dog teams and covers nearly one million acres of land, in which nearly 1.5 million people live. Part of the Lowland Rescue network, Search Dogs Sussex is on call 24/7, 365 days a year. On average, the team are mobilised over 35 times a year, often deploying to neighbouring counties.
When a missing person call is received, the team is deployed, guided by a text message on their phones sharing any necessary information: who they are looking for, their search area, and any background information on the person. Once on the ground, however, it is essential that each search member has the ability to report back to the incident response vehicle, sharing vital information to the search.
For legal reasons, there is a large amount of paperwork to be filled in for every search operation, each needing team members to report on the incident in a specific format with all of the right questions asked and answered. Previously, incident reports from a Search Dogs Sussex operation were completed on paper, requiring additional manual input from search operators. Now with a digital framework, the Search Dogs Sussex team can complete paperwork quickly and efficiently, with the necessary level of traceability for incident response and coroners’ reports.
Built to be functional in bright sunlight, heavy rain, extreme cold, and dusty environments, the devices are as robust as the search operators using them. Each TOUGHBOOK device is also equipped with a SIM card and an internal modem and antennae to ensure reliable connectivity across remote search areas, and to allow the team to integrate their processes directly into the main system. This saves precious time when a search is underway.
Whilst modern-day SAR combines the best of traditional and newer methods to respond to an incident, the efforts of Search Dogs Sussex and wider SAR teams across the UK is only as effective as its weakest link. Replacing paper-based tasks with TOUGHBOOK devices ensures a quick and reliable flow of information flow amongst teams, which can be critical in ultimately, saving someone’s life.
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