Comparing the impact of COVID-19 on Search and Rescue and fire emergency incident responses

Robert J. Koester PhD, FRGS 1,2

Ian Greatbatch PhD, FRGS, FHEA, MEPS, FICPEM

1 School of the Environment, Geography and Geosciences, University of Portsmouth, UK

2dbS Productions, UK, USA



The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in stay-at-home orders in many countries. Europe and North America were most affected for during the first wave in March, April, and May 2020. The mobility of the general population was significantly reduced, with governments directing people to remain indoors unless absolutely necessary. However, the impact on Search and Rescue (SAR) and the other emergency services was unclear, as although the teams themselves were not subject to lockdown, many of the factors leading to their deployment had to change significantly.

Data was collected from SAR organizations that had previously contributed to the International Search & Rescue Incident Database, the United States Coast Guard SAR office, and the London Fire Brigade for the months of March, April, and May for both 2020 and 2019. A significant decrease in incidents was seen in 2020 for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, and for the London Fire Brigade. All of the other sources had no statistically significant change while some did show minor increases. It appears, with certain data limitations, that SAR organizations should continue to plan for approximately the same level of response even during a pandemic and should prepare appropriate response guidelines.

Key Words: SAR, Fire and Rescue, COVID-19, Incidents, Seasonality

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