This month, we finish our discussion regarding building collapse by focusing on the operational concerns that come with every incident. We will discuss the potential for a large-scale collapse event in your own community, some tactical and strategic considerations for the collapse response, and define the phases of collapse rescue, and how they bring the incident to a successful conclusion.
In developing the specific collapse response needs of your community, the best starting point is with an operational capability check. Specifically, what type of incidents are your resources capable of handling with local support? Your in-house capabilities should be categorized by the following levels:
Awareness: Minimum abilities for assessment and requesting resources, surface-victim removal, content removal, etc…
Operations: Minimum level to operate in most unreinforced masonry (URM) constructed structures, conduct entry and removal operations, some limited shoring
Technician: All above mentioned skills, with capabilities to operate in concrete/steel/ reinforced frame structures.
Along with personnel, resources and personal protective equipment (PPE0 will be needed to adequately protect the rescuers. While turnouts provide some protection during the collapse response, they can become bulky and cumbersome during the operational period. Many departments have instead outfitted their rescue companies with lightweight USAR turnouts or Nomex coveralls for such a response. At a minimum, personnel should be outfitted with helmets, work gloves, eye protection, dust masks and half-face respirator masks, body substance isolation (BSI) equipment, hearing protection, flashlights, steel-toe boots with ankle support, knee and elbow pads, radios, and atmospheric-monitoring equipment. Most importantly, when your department makes the investment in this equipment, be sure the policy for enforcing its usage is in place.
Most departments have resource lists that are available for handling single-point responses that are dealt with on the local level, but multiple-point responses are a different story. Multiple-point responses are spread out over a larger area, involving many locations, and will require a larger resource pool, including outside agency support, large-scale Incident Management support, and technical expertise. An inventory of the surrounding communities can help identify critical resources such as mutual-aid companies, engineers, logistical support, and state or local experts for response. This review should be done annually, in order to keep the operational plan updated and accurate. Sunday morning, at 2 a.m. is not the time to start shopping around for a crane to respond to the scene; do your homework before the incident.
The collapse scene is not the place for freelancing and separation of crew members. Things can go wrong in an instant, and injuries and fatalities are often the result. It is vital that all of the responders understand that scene safety is an integrated part of training and discipline. Personnel must foster an attitude that identifies their skills and limitations, and embraces the “Team Efficiency Concept.” In his book, “Engineering Practical Rope Rescue Systems” (2000), Mike Brown defines the Team Efficiency Concept as “refining team member interaction to be productive without waste in every team endeavor” (Brown, 2000, p. 36). This concept enforces the maximization of the member’s efficiency, while considering safe operations as of equal importance. Working as a team for safer operations, staying focused on the assigned task, bringing the right equipment initially during the response are all examples of team efficiency. Your “team” should strive to coordinate, train and respond together with other local resources in a professional and commonly acceptable fashion.
Let’s take a look at the actual response to the incident. We can identify five phases of the collapse operation at any given incident: