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Search & Rescue (SAR) guidelines in flooded areas

How to perform SAR drone activities during emergency situations

Welcome to our guide on how to perform Search And Rescure for Globhe. All our Drone Operators must read the below and understand the details of a successful search and rescure operation during flooding events.

To fight climate change we need to make well-informed decisions based on accurate data. GLOBHE has gained experience in carrying out projects related to extreme weather events such as flood mapping and related data capturing and processing in different parts of the world.

Have a look at our flood mapping page for more information.

Search & Rescue

Search and rescue (SAR) is the search for and provision of aid to people who are in distress or imminent danger. The general field of search and rescue includes many specialty sub-fields, typically determined by the type of terrain the search is conducted over. It’s to be noted that the people involved in SAR activities need to be prepared to work during an emergency, with potential stressing conditions and distress.

Proper assessment of the situation saves time. Collect information on the extent of the damage and potential for future further damages. This can be done through visual inspection and verbal exchange with the local community. Rescue is a team effort that needs coordination and planning amongst the members for an optimum response operation.

Normally, the rescue operation is divided into different phases:

  1. Locating the surface casualty.
  2. Searching in slightly damaged buildings (immediate rescue).
  3. Searching of possible survival points (specialized rescue).
  4. Selected debris clearance (specialized rescue).
  5. General debris clearance (specialized rescue).

Keys to successful searching:

  • Respond quickly. This means even at night, and in all types of weather.
  • Confine movements of the subject and witnesses
  • Find, protect and register any clues
  • Develop an incident action plan
  • Back up your operations
  • Use hasty teams to flag routes that have been searched
  • Start and continue an intensive investigation
  • Gather and analyze clues or information
  • Document all your actions

Floods are devastating extreme events on earth, which cause hazardous fatalities and demolish buildings and infrastructure throughout the world. They can be associated with landslides and mudslides. In case of flood events, people are generally forced to leave their houses and can be cut off from dry land by flooding. There have been many reasons that drive flooding to occur, including precipitation, inadequate capacity within banks, landslides, poor drainage, snow melt, and glacial outbursts. The increase in flood frequency worldwide is both natural and anthropic, caused by changes in meteorological conditions and land-use patterns. Heavy precipitation is the most common reason for the cases of tributary basins while tropical cyclones are one of the main reasons for perilous hydrology and weather around coastal regions.

In case of floods and cyclone disasters, the rescuers must be equipped with swimming and floating aids and should have enough swimming capacity for rescuing the drowning casualty. The rescuers must have knowledge and practice of swimming in order not to risk themselves whilst rescuing the victims.

Flood impact and landslide, Blantyre-Sochi, Malawi. Project with UNICEF Malawi, March 2023.

Flood mitigation strategies

In order to mitigate the impact of floods on the population, a proper flood planning and management strategy is critical. Globhe operate both in the pre, during and post phase of floodings. Rapidly occurring flood disasters require a quick response time as well as fast and coordinated actions of governing authorities and SAR actors. In practice, flood mitigation strategies can be categorized into three phases of flood occurrence:

1. Pre-flood activities

Pre-flooding anticipation activities are carried out in order to have better preparedness for flood events. An appropriate pre-flood strategy can improve public safety, alleviate social damages and minimize economic losses associated with floods. Preparedness is defined as establishing an effective action to the initial adverse indicator of hazards (resulting, e.g., from environmental and weather changes), including assigning timely reliable early warnings and pre-allocation for temporary spaces for refugees and their belongings from the catchment areas.

2. In-flood activities

When flooding occurs, establishing rapid and effective SAR actions is key to reducing the effects of the flood disaster in the context of financial losses and further suffering of the flood victims. This phase includes activities of bringing suffering people from the risk zone to a safe zone, supplying food, water, medicine, and shelter, monitoring the flood situation, etc. The aim of the SAR operation is to manage the overall likelihood and negative impacts of flooding on people, the economy, and the environment.

3. Post-flood activities

Flood relief operations for affected people are the main task in the aftermath of flood events. Establishing effective planning and enlisting relief operations can benefit greatly in mitigating the suffering. Flood relief operations can take many forms that include establishing emergency facilities, distributing aid, transferring injuries, taking effort to restore public facilities and houses of the affected areas to its original state, and so on.

The role of drones in SAR

Effective communication technologies play an important role in providing a desirable solution in any circumstance of a natural disaster like a flood. Studies suggest that the first 72 hours post-disaster (called the “golden relief time”) are extremely important. After the golden relief time, the probability of finding survivors is rapidly becoming lower. Consequently, communication is vitally important to efficiently coordinate rescue efforts during this critical window. Various information and communication technologies such as remote sensing, Geographical Information Systems (GIS), and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are widely considered for a disaster management system. Since drones are fast and can access remote and hard-to-reach locations in a matter of minutes, they can be efficiently used to develop emergency communication networks for SAR missions and aid the rescue process in disaster areas.

The main objective of disaster response is to secure lives and livelihoods first. To achieve that, the competent authorities need accurate information regarding disaster areas to make a quick decision right after the disaster.

The 3 levels of remote sensing you can achieve are:

  • Detection. The ability to detect a foreign object within an environment
  • Recognition. The ability to determine what the object detected is, whether a person, a dog, etc.
  • Identification. The ability to identify that person as your missing person

There are still several variables that can impact the drone’s ability to find a missing person. But at the base of them lies speed. The faster we can get there, the faster we can find them, and the faster we can deliver them to definitive care, the better the chance of survival.


Depending on the needs and locations, GLOBHE's operators are expected to:

  • Be operative in the affected area ideally within 24 to 48 hours after the notification from GLOBHE
  • Run real-time search and rescue operations including the identification of vulnerable people and communities following the instructions provided by GLOBHE and rescue teams
  • Provide drone-based information, videos, imagery (RGB, thermal, depending on the needs) to local search and rescue teams, as communicated by GLOBHE
  • Provide situation monitoring to local search and rescue teams, as well as additional support needed
  • Efficiently set up a 2-way communication with rescue teams and the competent authorities via messages/calls to keep updated in real-time

Here are some important steps to follow before, during, and after starting a SAR mission:


  • Make sure you can be operative in the affected area within 24 to 48 hours after receiving the notification from Globhe
  • Check carefully the requirements and documentation provided by Globhe
  • Have your batteries ready and charged and make sure to bring extra out into the field
  • Download maps, KMLs, and other resources of the area affected
  • Carefully go through the guidelines and checklists provided by Globhe
  • Save the communication numbers of key people to keep in contact throughout the SAR mission
  • Pack your cell phone, food, water, a first aid kit, and any other supplies you may need

Flight planning

  • Determine if you will fly manually or use a pre-planned flight path, following the requirements. In most of cases, manual flights are more than enough to capture images and videos but also maps can be needed
  • If using a pre-planned flight program, decide between waypoint planning (following a feature), survey planning (an exhaustive grid pattern), or corridor scan (combining elements of both). Plan the mission using the drone’s mobile app
  • Use these recommendations from DJI (“Start survey”) to determine what height and camera angle is appropriate for your search
  • Determine what kind of footage you will collect, whether video, high-resolution snapshots, or thermal, according to the Globhe requirements received


  • Ideally, designate a second person on the scene to act as a spotter/visual observer
  • Perform flight checks and a compass calibration, if needed
  • Keep a log of your flight

Find the missing person

  • “Calibrate” your eyes to search for people on the screen and adjust the height accordingly
  • When you find your subject, take note of the real-time GPS location, alert the appropriate parties (via message or phone call), and decide the next steps for a rescue plan
  • If asked, provide data analysis on the footage and imagery captured in a timely manner. This could mean processing the drone data into orthomosaic maps, 360° panoramas, or others
  • Debrief the mission with GLOBHE, and discuss successes and challenges


Margherita Bruscolini
Head of Drones

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