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NDMA Organizes One-Day Aeronautical Search & Rescue Symposium for Effective Emergency Preparedness and Response

NDMA Headquarters, Aberdeen, Freetown, 18th July 2023 – The National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) through its Directorate of Relief and Response has organized a one-day symposium on Aeronautical Search and Rescue (A-SAR) for various state actors in ensuring effective emergency preparedness and response.


As provided for in Section 11(s) of the NDMA Act of 2020, the Agency is mandated to cooperate with other countries and relevant institutions in disaster prevention, mitigation, and search and rescue operations.

NDMA’s Deputy Director-General, John Vandi Rogers while welcoming the participants said the symposium is aimed at building the capacity of the various state institutions that are charged with the responsibility to conduct search and rescue operations.

Mr. Rogers also stated that the institutions present for the symposium were carefully selected due to the complementary role they have been playing in helping the NDMA deliver on its mandate. The institutions that benefited from the symposium were the Sierra Leone Maritime Administration (SLMA), Sierra Leone Civil Aviation Authority (SLCAA), the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF), the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society (SLRCS), the Ministry of Health (MoHs), National Emergency Management Services (NEMS) and the Sierra Leone Police (SLP).


He recalled that on April 19th, 2023, the NDMA with support from the Roberts Flight Information Region (Robert FIR) in Liberia established an aeronautical search and rescue sub-centre at the newly constructed Freetown International Airport for the first time in Sierra Leone’s history.


This contributed greatly to Sierra Leone’s high score on the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and the Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP) assessment report in 2022. It is a prerequisite that every nation should have the required capabilities, and competence to perform aeronautical search and rescue operations.

Paul Murphy, a World Bank Disaster Management Expert assigned to the NDMA, who was the lead facilitator disclosed that the primary objective of the SAR symposium was to discuss and identify strategies to save lives and provide aid to people who are stranded, lost, and injured, or facing life-threatening situations typically in a remote or hazardous environment. He also noted that the symposium will look at coordinated efforts and operations conducted to locate, assist, and extract individuals who are in distress or imminent danger.

Paul Murphy also expounded on areas of location and detection of missing and distressed individuals through the use of various tools and techniques such as tracking devices, aerial reconnaissance, trained search dogs, and other specialized equipment. The provision of medical assistance to injured individuals, extraction and evacuation of individuals from hazardous environments with the use of technical rope, helicopter or boat rescues, or other specialized extraction methods.


The symposium also looked at coordination and communication among various agencies and responders responsible for the conduct of SAR operations to ensure a swift and well-organized response, whilst emergency response planning for potential emergencies such as disasters like floods, and accidents at sea, or in remote areas.


Darry Ashford-Smith, a drone pilot and instructor, who joined the symposium via Zoom said the use of drones in search and rescue (SAR) operations has become increasingly common and valuable in recent years. drones, also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), offer several advantages that make them well-suited for search and rescue missions.

“Aerial perspective drones provide a bird’s-eye view of the search area, allowing rescuers to cover large and inaccessible terrain more efficiently than ground-based teams. They can fly at various altitudes and capture images and video footage, helping to spot potential victims, hazards, or areas of interest. Rapid deployment drones can be launched quickly, minimizing response times during critical situations. Their agility and ability to navigate challenging environments, such as disaster-stricken areas, make them valuable tools for time-sensitive operations.” He noted.

He continued: “By utilizing drones, SAR teams can reduce the risk to human responders, especially in hazardous situations. Drones can assess potential dangers before sending human teams into the area, ensuring a safer approach to rescue efforts. Remote communication drones can act as communication relays in areas with limited or disrupted communication infrastructure. This capability allows SAR teams to maintain contact and coordinate efforts effectively. While drones offer numerous benefits, their effective use in SAR missions relies on trained operators, proper planning, adherence to regulations and airspace restrictions, and collaboration with other emergency responders. Integrating drones with traditional SAR techniques can significantly enhance search capabilities and increase the likelihood of successful rescue missions.”


Gary Robertson, an Irish Coastguard SAR Manager, also joined the symposium via Zoom. He said aeronautical and maritime search and rescue are two specialized branches of search and rescue operations that focus on responding to emergencies and distress situations in the air and at sea, respectively. Both domains involve dedicated teams, equipment, and procedures tailored to the unique challenges and requirements of each environment.


“Both aeronautical and maritime SAR involve highly trained personnel, sophisticated equipment, and close coordination with various authorities to ensure rapid, effective, and lifesaving responses to emergencies in their respective environments. Additionally, in some cases, the operations of aeronautical and maritime SAR may overlap, requiring seamless integration and cooperation between the two domains to carry out successful search and rescue missions.” He pointed out.

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