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Drones in Humanitarian Action: Simulation - Drones for Search and Rescue in Emergency Response Simulation

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A three-day emergency response simulation tested the use of drones in support of search and rescue operations in a hypothetical country affected by a severe refugee crisis while being hit by a hurricane with subsequent flooding and landslides. The test showed that drones were of limited use in this simulation but that they have potential to become part of the emergency response toolkit for very specific tasks.


The Trimodex 2 exercise was a three-day emergency response simulation sponsored by the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism (EUCPM), organized by the Dutch crisis management firm Trimension and hosted in France by Entente Valabre1 . 316 participants including five search and rescue teams from six countries attended. The aim of the exercise was to provide a hands-on learning opportunity for various search and rescue and civil protection teams from across Europe. Trimodex 2 also allowed participants to implement agreed standards of cooperation in civil protection interventions and to improve how civil protection entities work together in disaster response.

CartONG and the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD) participated to test the use of drones to enhance situational awareness in emergency response, specifically in support of search and rescue operations. Drones have been involved in emergency response for over a decade but they are not yet part of the standard toolkit for search and rescue. Around the world there are few countries that have institutionalized the use of drones in emergency response, with active drone units only in parts of the United States and the United Kingdom.2 There has been much speculation, however, on their potential, and this exercise was able to provide further support in this regard.
The disaster scenario tested during Trimodex 2 was a complex crisis. A hypothetical country was affected by a severe refugee crisis while being hit by a hurricane with subsequent flooding and landslides. The deployments took place from 25-28 February 2016 in and around Valabre, France.

The exercise consisted of several phases: pre-alert, mobilization, response and deployment and demobilization of six international search and rescue teams. The structure of the response followed the configuration developed by the United Nations and the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group network, which maintains at the centre of the response the On-Site Operations Coordination Centre (OSOCC).
The OSOCC is set up to help local authorities in a disaster-affected country to coordinate international relief and is typically established by the first arriving international urban search and rescue team. All operations, including the drone deployments, were carried out at the level just below the OSOCC coordination level and included technical experts.

The two sites where the drones were active were site 2, managed by a Croatian civil protection team and site 13, managed by their French counterparts. Both sites included damaged buildings and survivors of the disaster who needed to be rescued.