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Using innovative digital solutions to improve search and rescue operations

21 Jul 2022
Catalin Buliga

Cătălin Buliga

Chief Network Officer Vodafone Romania and Head of Networks Development for Europe Cluster Markets

Each year, the number of rescue missions increases by 30-40% in Romania. Just last year, Salvamont, the country’s National Mountain Rescuers Association, had over 7,000 missions and rescued more than 8,500 people[1].

In these scenarios, time is the most important element and while rescue teams are well-trained, there are situations when more is needed.

The often-dangerous terrain can pose numerous challenges for first responders and high, rocky walls can block the reach of mobile signals making it difficult for people to contact emergency services, but also for these teams to keep in contact when on a mission.

Using two new digital solutions, we’re supporting Salvamont to speed up search and rescue missions so that we can find victims quicker and save more lives.

Connecting hard-to-reach areas

Using 5G, the first solution works by providing mobile signals coverage in hard-to-reach areas.

By installing and attaching ground-based telecoms equipment on transportation, such as all-terrain vehicles, Vodafone’s mobile network can be connected via satellite. Radio equipment is also fitted onto a drone which can be flown above the search area.

This equipment can generate mobile signals (voice and data), including 5G, within a radius of up to 10km. The victim’s phone can then automatically connect to the network so they can contact the unique 112 emergency service, regardless of the operator they have a contract with.

Moreover, if the victim uses the Salvamont-Vodafone app and has activated its location function before starting the route, the mountain rescue team will be able to track their route and locate them faster.

FOTO Vodafone Romania

Imagery from the sky

The second solution uses photogrammetry and Artificial Intelligence to capture and analyse geolocated images, to automatically detect missing victims.

Equipped with the necessary technology for photogrammetry and thermal imaging, a second drone is used to capture high-resolution images in the search area. Travelling for up to 5 linear km and covering an area of 24 hectares, the drone can take between 130 and 300 images in just 30 minutes.

These photos are then downloaded and sent via the emergency network created to the Salvamont-Vodafone National Data Analysis Centre.

In the centre, which is connected to our super-fast fiber network, the data is analysed and processed in a few minutes (approx. 100 photos in 2 minutes) by the AI-powered automatic detection program SARUAV. Looking for a series of clues such as a person's figure or coat, the command centre team sends any evidence found, with the exact coordinates, to the mountain rescue team.

Transforming the healthcare industry

Using these solutions and having a command centre equipped with state-of-the-art technology, we can increase the search capacity by almost 10 times, which means more lives saved, but it also reduces the search time and risk involved for the emergency rescue teams.

In Spain, we’ve been experimenting with Red Cross and Capgemini Engineering, using unmanned aerial vehicles in search and rescue missions and across Scotland and Germany, we’re testing drones for medical supply delivery in both remote and urban locations.

As technology continues to advance, we’re keen to keep pushing the boundaries and showcasing how our solutions can transform our healthcare systems. Working with other like-minded businesses, we want to improve access to care and create better patient experiences for everyone.


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