London Search and Rescue (LONSAR) is a Lowland Rescue Team and one of 36 teams across England and Wales. LONSAR trained volunteers assist the Metropolitan Police in searches for high-risk vulnerable missing person in open spaces and parks across London to help end preventable loss of life in the capital.
Lowland Rescue Teams are deployed by the police to assist with high risk missing person searches. Teams have their own incident control vehicles fitted with technology that allows them to work alongside the police. This includes use of an electronic mapping system to allocate search team areas from the incident control vehicle.
Tony Liparoti is a trained search technician and drone lead volunteer and oversees LONSAR’s drone capability and operations, which he set up in 2021 shortly after joining the team. He has several years in policing, the military and in the commercial drone industry combined and says that his experience has been important for his voluntary work.
Tony says that the deployment of the drone by the search and rescue team is based on a detailed flight plan and risk assessment. LONSAR bought its drone capability using a £10k grant from the National Lottery at the end of 2022.
Along with two other trained drone pilot volunteers, Tony says the they have used the drone a few times now and he is excited about the potential it has providing aerial situation awareness through optical and thermal cameras and live streaming back to the incident control vehicle. This technology allows search managers to make informed operational decisions while managing the search teams on the ground more efficiently.
The challenge for LONSAR come from operating drones in London with its busy airspace and airports that have Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ). Tony explains that commercial drone operators will apply for permission to fly in these zones at a specific day and time, but that doesn’t work for the acute nature of incidents requiring search and rescue capability.
“For us, our needs are different. We don’t know when a call out will come. To help with this, I made an application to obtain a 12-month 24/7 permission should we have a search within an airport Fight Restricted Zone for each of the seven airports/aerodromes one heliport and the three R zones within and around London. This means that when we need to fly in one of these restricted areas, we have a specific step by step process agreed with the specific Air Traffic Control. If all is well, they will tell us we are good to go.”
Almost all Lowland Rescue Teams have varying levels of drone capability, but they are expensive and rely on fundraising. LONSAR is no exception and last year the team attended 43 incidents, 56 training exercises as its volunteers contributed over 5,712 hours to activity across London. Over time, more of this activity is likely to include use of drones across London open spaces and parks so fundraising continues to be vital to ensure it remains operational and potentially the team’s capability could expand in the future.