RNLI tests drones in search-and-rescue scenarios

In a week-long event in Wales, the life-saving charity has simulated four separate operations to evaluate how drones could be used in real emergencies

A drone in action (Photograph: RNLI/Nathan Williams)
A drone in action (Photograph: RNLI/Nathan Williams)

The RNLI has been testing the use of drones in search-and-rescue scenarios in collaboration with the Maritime & Coastguard Agency.

The week-long event has been conducted in Wales, with drones being used in four separate search-and-rescue operations to investigate how they could be used in real-life events. The scenarios have included a shoreline search for a casualty, an offshore search for multiple casualties in the sea, a mud rescue and a communications blackspot where a drone is required to relay information between rescue teams and a casualty on a cliff.

In a statement, the RNLI said the tests would evaluate the potential impact of using drones on operations, paying particular attention to how they could work with existing search-and-rescue teams with a view to enhancing life-saving capability and reducing risks to rescue teams.

Hannah Nobbs from the RNLI’s Innovation Team said: "The aim of this event is to provide realistic scenarios and an authentic operating environment to explore the use of drones in multi-agency operations. We hope this will allow us to understand the benefits and limitations of their use in search-and-rescue activity.

"This week-long test event is the culmination of about two years of work, in which we’ve explored the use of drones in collaboration with key search-and-rescue partners and industry experts."

Phil Hanson, aviation technical assurance manager at the MCA, added: "There is significant evidence emerging from our overseas counterparts and, more locally, from UK mountain rescue teams indicating that drones can play a crucial role in emergency response.

"It’s too early to comment on how we will move forward from the trials, but one thing we all agree on is that drones cannot replace helicopters, coastguard rescue teams or lifeboats. However, it is entirely possible that they could be an additional tool to use in search and rescue."

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