The U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance deploys urban search and rescue (USAR) task forces from Miami-Dade County, FL, and Fairfax County, VA, to respond to major disasters abroad. In the wake of the Turkey earthquake, both task forces were needed to aid a region that had experienced one of the deadliest earthquakes of the century.
The Miami-Dade USAR Task Force augmented the Fairfax County team on Aug. 21, 1999, in the town of Izmit, where a combined base camp was set up for two days. Following this joint effort and the deactivation of the Fairfax team, Miami-Dade's team remained at the camp.
Over the course of a week, the 72-member Miami-Dade USAR Task Force conducted reconnaissance operations in the towns of Izmit, Golcuk and Yolova. The mission included thorough canvassing of damaged and collapsed structures exceeding a 200-square-mile area. This systematic and lengthy effort took place with the support of six canine handlers. The team also included structural engineers and medical personnel.
Under Chief John Neudorff, the task force leader, the members helped the citizens and victims in the following ways:
- On the second day of the mission, the Miami-Dade USAR Task Force assisted members of the Swiss team in rescuing a 57-year-old woman.
- The team was designated as a Regional Response Unit, working directly with citizens' groups, local officials and individuals who requested search and rescue in specific areas.
- Four task force members were assigned to work with the United Nations in establishing and maintaining the On-Site Operations Coordination Center, a central command base for the efforts of various aid agencies.
- The Miami-Dade USAR Task Force assisted the United Nations in implementing much-needed water-purification systems in the cities of Adapazari and Yolova.
- The task force provided communications support for many of the agencies deployed through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. State-of-the-art communications equipment enabled the flow of important information.
- Task force members administered medical support when needed, attending the injuries of patients with a variety of medical complaints.
- Miami-Dade's task force provided USAR training and equipment to a Turkish rescue team. The equipment was used successfully to locate and rescue several victims following an earthquake in Greece six days after the Turkish quake.
When the task force arrived home from its mission on Aug. 28, 1999, family members and loved ones watched as airport fire trucks gave a water salute. Roy Williams, director of USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, Mayor Alex Penelas of Miami-Dade County, and Fire Chief R.D. Paulison extended a welcome and commended the team members on their outstanding efforts.
"Our first response to that part of the world was for the Soviet Armenian earthquake in 1988," Paulison said. "In the 11 years that have followed, there have been major improvements in search and rescue, but there is still a lot of work to be done."
Although an international USAR response differs from a domestic response, the lessons learned in Turkey will be used to improve the National Urban Search and Rescue Response System in this country.
USAID Commends USAR Teams
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has presented the 1999 Administrator's Domestic Partnership Award to the Fairfax County, VA, and Miami-Dade, FL, Fire Rescue Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Teams. The awards were presented during the agency's annual awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., in December 1999.
The award recognized the courageous performance of USAR team members for over a decade while responding to disasters on every continent. Missions have included the American Embassy bombing in Kenya and earthquakes in Turkey, Taiwan, Colombia, the Philippines and Soviet Armenia. Many lives have been saved and much suffering has been relieved through their work, which was performed at great personal risk.
The award is given each year to an individual or organization whose leadership has brought a deeper understanding to the American public about the important work of USAID and whose work at home reflects the same commitment to helping others improve the quality of life.
LaVerne Guillen is a public information officer with the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department.