Top 5 Takeaways from the World Maritime Rescue Congress

Having recently attended – and presented at – the World Maritime Rescue Congress in Bremerhaven, Germany earlier this month, I wanted to share my Top 5 Takeaways from the conference.

First of all, I want to congratulate the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF) on a well-organized event.  It was very educational, informative and innovative – highlighting key trends in the maritime industry and showcasing search and rescue (SAR) solutions from product, technology and process improvement perspectives.  The IMRF has rapidly become the global authority on maritime mass search and rescue as evidenced by the quality, engagement and level of conference attendees (representing some of the top SAR authorities, agencies and solution providers globally).
Here are my Top 5 Takeaways from the conference:

1. Search and Rescue Extends Beyond Maritime – Although this was a “maritime” search and rescue conference, the concepts and ideas presented were applicable across many other industries, especially aviation.  Did you know that, on average, there are 27 fatal commercial airline accidents in the world every year resulting in 720 deaths? Many of these incidents occur on the world’s waterways.  This past year alone, there were a number of high-profile aviation emergencies that have occurred at sea, on the ocean or on rivers.  As a result, the IMRF and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) are working closely with non-maritime industry groups such as ICAO (the International Civil Aviation Organization) in aviation to discuss common initiatives.  While the search and rescue terminology in various industries may be different, the SAR concepts and processes are very similar.

2. It’s All About Convergence – The search and rescue industry consists today of a variety of technologies and solutions that, if more tightly integrated and coordinated, can help to save even more lives.  We’re already starting to see the embedding of distress beacon technology into life jackets, life boats, life rafts and survival suits.  Many countries are looking to integrate rescue coordination center systems with traditional fleet management solutions so that one screen shows everything.  And, I presented an innovative, integrated aviation product concept – a deployable, buoyant/floatable, location beacon-integrated “black box” – because it shouldn’t take forever to find a flight data recorder or a cockpit voice recorder in the event of an airline disaster.

3. Drones and UAVs are Coming Soon – Unmanned Aerial Vehicles will take a greater role in the search and rescue process in the very near future.  One presentation showed footage of a drone flying to an emergency location then dropping life preserver rings to the people in distress below.  Another concept was an unmanned rescue raft which maneuvered to a location and “scooped up” any people needing assistance.  Keep an eye on this space.

4. Migration and Ferry Safety is a Major Issue
– In 2014, of the 220,000 migrants and refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea, over 3,200 people died.  In 2015, the number of people attempting the crossing is expected to double to well over 400,000.  A similar safety issue is seen with ferries with over 18,000 lives lost from 2000-2014 especially in Asia.  A number of migration and ferry safety initiatives are being developed to improve SAR processes in the event of an emergency.

5. Move to the Cloud and Mobility – Having worked most of my career in the technology sector, I’m quite familiar with the “cloud”.  The concept of “SAR Software as a Service” is fast becoming a reality.  In these cases, search and rescue software is housed in the cloud and accessible by people, countries and groups who do not have resources – financial, manpower, technical – to implement, maintain and operate their own SAR hardware/software systems today.  And, as with computing in general, we’re starting to see a shift to mobility whether it’s SAR functionality on a mobile phone or tablet, a ruggedized portable unit or a mobile rescue coordination center.

Of course, there were a number of other interesting topics discussed including the Mona Lisa project (maritime transport for the European Union), innovative search and rescue simulators for training, and updates on next-gen SAR solutions such as MEOSAR, but these were the Top 5 that stood out for me.