Natural and man-made disasters have always been the greatest challenges for emergency services. When a disaster strikes, local resources quickly become overwhelmed, chaos is the norm and people simply do the best that they can. In the early 1990s, the federal emergency management administration (FEMA) created a national urban search and rescue response (USAR) program to deal with these large-scale emergencies. 28 USAR teams were created in strategic parts of the United States to perform urban search and rescue. Known as a USAR task force, a USAR team is fully equipped and self-sufficient for 72 hours and can be on the road with 70+ team members in less than eight hours from notification. It does however take up to 24 hours for the USAR task force to get on site, set up a base of operations and begin working.
Local responders must be able to begin the response to collapse disasters during that first 24 hours. Naturally, urban search and rescue training is vital for local agencies that have the potential for large-scale disaster.
The task level checklist helps rescuers organize rescue efforts with a systematic approach to the rescue problem. The site will need to be assessed for hazards, potential victims and best access points. A risk management profile must be developed in order to ensure rescuer safety.
The initial search begins with a visual search followed by a callout /listen search. Rescuers must search from stable areas into unstable areas. Advanced search options like search dogs, acoustic listening devices and thermal imagers can be a big help in locating victims.
Rescue in an unstable or collapsed structure requires emergency shoring. A cut team and a shoring team can work together to create and place emergency shoring. The safety rule is to build in the safe area and limit exposure to teams that are placing shoring.
Typically we stabilize the outside the outside of the structure with raker shores and then work our way in with vertical shores. Spot shores can be placed quickly to stabilize the area and then more substantial shores can be placed.
Since this is high risk – low frequency operations, urban search and rescue training should be conducted frequently. The Essential Technical Rescue Field Operations Guide is based on the Corps of Engineers 2009 Shoring Operations Guide and it will assist you with your urban search and rescue training.