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23 Mar, 2021 - 2 min read

Leading the search and rescue revolution

Steve Campbell General Manager, Youth Search and Rescue Trust (YSAR)

Master of Technological graduate: Gen 3, 2018.

The Master of Technological Futures might have been his first formal degree, but Steve Campbell is no stranger to study.

“I’ve got a couple of Business Management diplomas and a whole mix and match of qualifications and training but I'd always wanted to advance my education to a higher level.”

The former farmer turned police officer had considered several options but nothing quite matched Tech Futures Lab.

“I wanted a programme that would challenge me and support my existing personal development. I've always had an interest in horizon thinking and different ways of doing things and this was far more in tune with where my head was at. It also focused on technology and innovation which has always been a passion of mine and it matched our strategic plan.”

‘Our’ being the Youth Search and Rescue Trust (YSAR), an independent, non-profit, charity and incorporated society that trains young people to become active community volunteers and develop leadership capability.

Steve developed YSAR in Tauranga in 2009 after 14 years working for the Police and leading search and rescue operations in the Bay of Plenty. He soon realised that volunteer numbers were not only dwindling, the whole sector was ageing. So he set out to recruit a younger and more diverse demographic, one that would naturally embrace what he saw was sorely missing from the sector.

“There’s a real lack of technology in search and rescue and it’s because there’s been a real resistance to change. Volunteers have preferred traditional methods like tracking people from footprint to footprint on the ground, rather than, say, using a drone and thermal imaging. We’re challenging that. It makes sense that you would integrate that technology as well as robotics and geo-spatial analysis. We’re working on a project at the moment using field force intelligence, livening up the ability to stream data or information back from the field. Most search and rescue groups internationally are still just sending information back via voice comms.”

When other regions, and other countries like Australia started to take notice, Steve realised he was going to need to scale up.

“I was looking at transitioning a local not for profit charity focused on innovation, succession planning and technology into a large scale national organisation and it was requiring a lot of energy and research. To enable scaling we had to look at the digital systems on both the education side and legal requirements around youth and the outdoors.

The Master's programme allowed me the opportunity to do some deep diving into all those critical elements and stitch it all together. Because the course is so practical, I was able to bring the work project onto the programme meaning I earned my Master's and got the work done at the same time. The opportunity to talk to like-minded people wanting to make change as well as the experts in new digital technologies was incredibly helpful to me."

​And today the Trust is flying.

“We had some big milestones achieved last year. One is that we're now an Associate Member to New Zealand Land Search and Rescue. The new CEO is passionate about innovation and development and we're now their innovation hub. It's the young people leading the old with their new skills.”