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Control measure

Thermal imaging or scanning: Search and rescue

Control measure knowledge

Thermal imaging can be used to search for people and can be of particular benefit in reduced visibility. A methodical system should be adopted when using thermal imaging equipment to search for people.

The heat energy radiated from people or objects, in the form of infrared waves, is picked up by thermal imaging equipment. This can identify the energy differences from the people or objects being scanned and convert the readings into visual images, which are based on the temperature differential. Residual heat, showing where a person has been, for example sitting in a mode of transport, may also be detected.

Images may be displayed in black and white or in a colour range. The manufacturer's information should be referred to for descriptions of how higher or hotter temperatures will be displayed on their equipment.

The use of thermal imaging equipment has operational limitations. Examples of these would be the detection of a heat source from people in the water, people with hypothermia or people hidden in areas with dense plant or tree growth.

Thermal imaging equipment may include:

  • Thermal imaging cameras (TIC)
  • Thermal imaging equipment fitted to aerial resources, such as:
    • Drones (classified as a type of unmanned aircraft by the Civil Aviation Authority)
    • Helicopters

Aerial resource thermal imaging equipment needs to be supported by a downlink, which personnel can view when searching for a person.

Strategic actions

Fire and rescue services should:
  • Make arrangements for personnel to be able to use thermal imaging when searching for people

  • Consider providing an appropriate size screen for the display of downlink data from thermal imaging equipment

Tactical actions

Incident commanders should:
  • Consider requesting appropriate thermal imaging resources when searching for people, especially in reduced visibility

  • Adopt a methodical system when using thermal imaging equipment to search for people

  • Consider the limitations of thermal imaging equipment when searching for people