Suffolk to use drone technology to help manage blue light service incidents


15 February 2018 marks the official launch of the use of two Small Unmanned Surveillance Aircrafts in Suffolk.

The technology, commonly referred to as drones have been developed and funded by Suffolk Resilience Forum for use across the county.

As part of a multi-agency Air Support Unit, the drones will be used by Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service, Suffolk Constabulary, Suffolk County Council and Suffolk Lowland Search and Rescue and Norfolk & Suffolk 4x4 Response.

The drones will provide a range of aerial surveillance options to support emergency services and voluntary organisations across a wide range of incidents including:

  • large-scale open fires or complex structural fires
  • urban area search and rescue
  • major incident or disaster response
  • investigative support
  • hazardous materials response including Environmental Impact Assessments
  • road traffic accidents
  • significant multi-agency events
  • missing persons searches
  • pre-planned operations and risk information gathering

By improving the ability to see and understand what is happening from the air, the drones will support emergency services and voluntary organisations to inform the decisions they make when dealing with an incident. They will also help to reduce risks to the public and emergency service workers.

The drones and camera equipment cost around £42,500 and they are based at Woodbridge Fire and Police station, have 24/7 emergency response capability and can be used by 17 specially trained remote pilots.

The drones will provide important visual information which will be used alongside experienced operational commanders to complete the decision-making picture and help resolve incidents as quickly and safely as possible.

The drones have already been used a number of times, most recently at the fire at Saxmundham train station to not only provide pictures of fire spreading and possible collapse in areas that may not have been possible for firefighters to access or see, but also to assist the joint investigation team to determine the location and possible cause of the fire.

Councillor Matthew Hicks, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for Environment, Public Protection and Broadband, said:

“This is another great example of Suffolk Fire & Rescue Service and our partners working in collaboration to improve the service we all provide to the people of Suffolk.

“We have a fantastic track record of innovation, investment and collaboration and this marks another step on our journey to continuous improvement.

“The drone has already been used operationally and will be an important asset to Fire, Police, emergency planning colleagues and lowland search and rescue partners in years to come.”

Tim Passmore, Police and Crime Commissioner, said:

“I am very proud to see our two blue light services working together on another successful project and particularly delighted to see SULSAR and the 4x4 response teams involved too. 

“This innovative drone technology will provide another useful tool for the Constabulary in their fight against crime and I am very pleased to see the police and partners developing new ways of working together to improve the service we provide to the people of Suffolk.

“This new Air Support Unit will not replace the police helicopter but it will certainly complement it.”

Dave Coyle, Suffolk Lowland Search and Rescue Search Manager, said:

“Suffolk Search and Rescue are pleased to be involved in this multi service joint venture. It makes good sense. For us this drone is another tool we can use to help return loved ones to their families quickly.” 

Will Pawlowski, Norfolk and Suffolk 4x4 Response Chairman, said:

“The drone surveillance is an exciting new venture and we are looking forward to sharing this with all agencies. We feel privileged to be part of something so big.”