For the next 12 months, a new drone trial is taking flight to support vital search and rescue action around the coast of Essex, thanks to a partnership between Essex Police, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).
The year-long trial, which starts today (29 April) will provide HM Coastguard Rescue Teams with more eyes in the sky to assist with search and rescue operations around the county’s coastline, supporting the vital work of their teams and the RNLI.
From helping to search for casualties in hazardous locations and directing HM Coastguard and RNLI lifeboat crews to their locations to enable emergency services to risk assess situations before deploying rescue personnel to the scene, Essex Police’s Drone Unit will provide a range of operational benefits to the search and rescue teams.
At the end of the year-long pilot, the impact that drones have had on coastal search and rescue activity in the region will be assessed, and that information will help inform the MCA and RNLI’s ongoing work to explore the role that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can play in future search and rescue activity.
HM Coastguard Teams from Walton, Clacton, Mersea Island, South Woodham Ferrers, Southend and Canvey Island will be taking part in the trial, supported by a range of inshore and all-weather lifeboats and hovercraft strategically located at six RNLI lifeboat stations along that stretch of the Essex coastline.
Phil Hanson, Aviation Technical Assurance Manager at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, said the MCA was proud to be a partner and support the evolution of drones in UK search and rescue. He commented: “Thanks to the Essex Police Drone Unit, we are able to trial this innovative technology to help rescuers on the front line with more accurate aerial vision, conduct searches in hard to reach or hazardous areas, assist with night time thermal imagery searches and relaying messages from rescuers to casualties. This will allow rescuers to make more informed decisions and ultimately help make the coast safer – particularly as the busy season is now almost upon us.
“One thing, we need to stress is that the drones will not replace our Coastguard helicopters, Coastguard Rescue Teams, RNLI or independent lifeboats. However, it is entirely possible that they could be an additional tool to use in search and rescue and enhance our existing capabilities.”
Essex Police Drone Manager Perran Bonner added: “We are delighted to be supporting the invaluable work of the MCA and RNLI in keeping our county's coastlines safe.
“Our drone team will be available to assist both organisations in their endeavours, whether this is by providing a live view of the county's coast, investigating suspicious behaviour, responding to welfare concerns or searching for a missing person.
“The technology available to us and the expertise of our officers mean that we can provide accurate and up-to-date information to the relevant people, ensuring that a quick and appropriate response can be taken, that Essex residents and visitors are kept safe and anyone using our coastline to commit crime are brought to justice.”
Will Roberts, Senior Innovation Manager at the RNLI, said: “This pilot will provide our lifesavers with the opportunity to benefit from the advantages that drones can provide when they’re searching for casualties.
“The increased situational awareness that drones provide could play a significant role in helping us locate casualties as quickly as possible. When lives are at risk, the speed at which our crews can locate and reach a casualty is vital. Being able to see the impact that drones can have in helping our lifeboat crews search and then reach casualties through this pilot will be extremely useful.
“As well as helping our lifesavers to search and locate casualties, working with Essex Police’s Drone Unit will also allow potentially dangerous scenes to be risk assessed before our volunteer lifeboat crews are deployed to the scene.”
Photo credit: Essex Police