Improving Rescue Operations: Eyes on the Ground or Eye in the Sky?


12 March 2013

Should drones be used in search and rescue operations, or are the eyes on the ground better suited for this task? On 7 March 2013 a group of diverse experts came together in order to discuss opportunities and challenges of the use of drones for search and rescue operations in Norway. The workshop was hosted by the Peace Research Institute Oslo and the Norwegian Board of Technology.

As Norway's largest voluntary rescue organization, the Red Cross Rescue Corps undertakes an increasing number of rescue operations every year. Rescue organizations are thus in constant need for improvement of their operations. When assessing new tools and methods to enhance search capacities, the security and safety of missing persons and of volunteers are of utmost importance. Could new technological advancement, such as drones, make rescue operations more efficient and safe, or is training and capacity building of staff sufficient for improving operations?

In a full-day workshop format, 26 experts from governmental departments, academic institutions, operational rescue organizations and the private sector discussed impacts of the two potential investments on society at large. They provided insight from fields such as military and defense, law, ethics and fundamental rights, security, technology and in depth knowledge about rescue operations in practice. Using the newly developed DESSI procedure for decision-making, the experts shed light on opportunities and challenges of the two alternatives. The procedure enabled a multifaceted discussion in order to improve the knowledge on search and rescue operations, as well as to identify ambiguities with regard to future implementations.

The discussion problematized amongst other topics the different levels and potential gaps of accountability in rescue operations, concerns of privacy and responsibility with regards to data collection and storage, as well as the transfer of responsibility and risks from the volunteer personnel on the ground to the technology operators if new technology is opted for. The workshop served as a fruitful arena for increasing transparency and dialogue in the decision-making process. By shedding light on areas of discussion which are easily forgotten or not yet explored, the workshop also highlighted the need for further research and discussion on the complex legal, ethical, societal, economic and political implications of such security measures.

The DESSI workshop was hosted by PRIO and the Norwegian Board of Technology, in cooperation with the Norwegian Red Cross. The DESSI procedure (Decision Support on Security Investment) is developed by a European consortium, and is financed by EU’s 7th Framework Programme. For further information, please visit:

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