Newcastle University Business School

News Item

Drone technology heralds a new era in search management

Findings from ‘Exercise Northumberland’, a research project designed to compare the effectiveness of ground and air assets – including drones - in a search environment, were published yesterday (18 September).

The project was carried out earlier this year by The Centre for Search Research, in partnership with Newcastle University Business School and Northumberland National Park Authority.

‘Exercise Northumberland’ was the first research project to compare the effectiveness of multiple search assets since the Home Office’s ‘O’Donnell’ experiments were published in 1987 and 2008.  Since then, significant advances in new technology - such as the development of drones - have taken place; new methods for ground search have been introduced and new approaches to search management have been devised and adopted.  Within this context, the research team were determined to establish which assets are now best suited to each phase of a search.

The aims of the project were to:

  1. Update Home Office research undertaken in 1987 and 2008 on the effectiveness of air and ground search assets
  2. Observe and measure the search performance of air and ground assets
  3. Test and evaluate the use and effectiveness of drones during a search

The two-day exercise involved a multi-asset search operation which took place over a two kilometre expanse of moorland near Rothbury, in Northumberland. 

The study showed that drones are an effective search resource – in all phases of a search incident - alongside helicopters and traditional search resources such as trained teams of ground searchers and air scenting search dogs. 

However, there were limitations to both the field trial and the use of drones as search assets and as a result the research team recommended further field trials, across a range of topographies and search scenarios such as sea, avalanches, earthquakes to name but a few.

Following the publication of ‘Exercise Northumberland’, an international conference will take place at Newcastle University, in December.  The event will bring together search and rescue leaders from across the globe to share their learning and pool their expertise on the planning and co-ordination of complex, multi-agency, multi-asset searches using drone technologies. The conference will look at ways to develop and support the need for further research identified in the Exercise Northumberland report

Steven Hughes, Professor of International Organisations at Newcastle University Business School, said:

“This research collaboration between The Centre for Search Research and Newcastle University Business School will provide the start of what we hope will be a thorough evaluation of drone capabilities and performance in multi-agency search situations. It will also establish closer links between the University and a voluntary sector of growing importance to search and rescue responses. Ultimately we hope our findings will inform increasingly effective search and rescue operations and save lives”

Read: Exercise Northumberland Research Report (PDF:2MB)

image from exercise northumberland research project

published on: 19 September 2017