It is 10:00 am on a Wednesday, and you are sitting in your shift commander’s office looking at the local weather report as the news staff discuss the significant winter storm that is hitting your response area. Your tones drop, and the overhead speaker fills out the box for a reported structural collapse at the local supermarket.
Your arrival reveals a significant area of collapse in a very large Type II structure: the parking lot is full of cars; smoke is coming off of the rubble pile; there are multiple walking wounded wandering aimlessly around the scene; and surrounding towns heard the call coming in, so they are asking you if you want them to come (see Photo 1). But, don’t worry; your first alarm assignment is there: two engines; a ladder company; a heavy rescue; one BLS rig; and your tour commander car.
Uh-oh…luckily, your department has a documented emergency response plan for such a crisis. Going through the chain, you have to activate your local office of emergency management (OEM), which will then request state assistance. Once they arrive and determine it is beyond their capabilities, then they can ask for the feds to send out some help. They will send out the three closest Urban Search & Rescue (US&R) teams up on rotation. How long will it take? Well, that depends how far the closest FEMA team is from your emergency?
If your response area is in a state that participates in the State Urban Search and Rescue Association (SUSAR), you are in a bit of luck. You may have a team closer than you think. The SUSAR Association was founded in August 2006, and represents more than 31 states, including Puerto Rico. The original design of the concept was to provide support and positive relations for all state US&R teams across the country. They represent state, commonwealth, and territorial US&R teams that support the mission of the association.
The organization began to breathe life after rescue leaders from around the nation began to identify shortcomings in securing US&R training for their team members. It turned out that a lot of leaders were sharing similar experiences, and decided to come together to brainstorm a solution to this issue. Not only did training shortfalls exist, but response troubles existed as well. Leaders told stories of many state teams that sat in wait to respond to incidents of significance, while watching FEMA teams drive past them, en route to the emergency. The conclusion was evident; the State US&R teams needed a “dog in the fight,” so to speak. This led to the forming of the SUSAR Alliance.
The members of this organization agreed on a purpose; “…support and conduct research, education, and informational activities to benefit the communities served by state-level US&R teams; to provide teams a voice in the US&R community; to stimulate the exchange of information among persons and organizations thus engaged in US&R and to disseminate such information and to develop, adopt, and utilize standards for participants and teams engaged in US&R.”
By combining forces, these state team leaders can share concerns and visions about the direction and support of SUSAR teams that could no longer be ignored. Aside from being ready for a large-scale event, one major part of the focus is to dispel the notion that these state US&R teams do not stack up well against their FEMA counterparts.
For example, let’s go back and re-visit that scenario at the beginning of our discussion. What needs to be done, and who is going to do it? Well, your local OEM has determined that a US&R response is required, and a team has been called. Here is a list of the members who will deploy and what they will take care of:
Structures Specialists will review the scene and determine the integrity of whatever structure is still standing, and provide safety points and concerns to responders as they shore up the pile and the debris areas. These specialists calculate loads and locations for shoring locations and construction types, and help identify safe havens for responders operating in the “hot zone.”