Collapse Rescue 101: Scene Safety Risk/Benefit Analysis

Being able to perform a risk / benefit analysis enables you to keep your personnel safe as well as mitigate the incident.

"Box 1812; for the building collapse, Rescue 1 and the collapse support unit respond to assist. Units on scene report a large shopping mall with a partial collapse in the underground tunnel area".

As the officer in charge of a rescue company assigned as a response resource to mitigate structural collapse incidents, being able to perform a risk / benefit analysis enables you to keep your personnel safe as well as mitigate the incident. This analysis is a step by step process that begins well before the alarm and continues until the equipment and your personnel are returned to service.

The first and most basic step in developing your resource is to perform a community analysis that looks at your specific response district and the construction types you respond to. The results of this analysis will tell you where you need to develop your collapse resource. For example, if your response district is primarily residential, there is no need to fully equip for heavy reinforced concrete. Another step is to survey the surrounding jurisdictions to determine their ability to mitigate these incidents. Many large departments are equipping collapse rescue teams that are quicker to deploy locally than the federal US&R teams. (see below) Be sure to find out if they can (and will) respond outside their district to assist. Pre-arranged mutual-aid agreements need to be in place well before the event.

"Command to Rescue 1, we have a column in the tunnel next to the loading dock that has been displaced by a truck. The driver is still trapped and it appears the beam above the column is damaged. We need you to shore that up so we can continue the extrication. Also, mall security advises the stores located above the impact area are still occupied. Do you recommend evacuation?"

Response and mitigation of collapse incidents requires the assistance of many agencies over and above the usual fire department contacts. These can include:

  • Structural engineers. Either from local government or private industry, engineers are an invaluable asset. They give the incident commander trained, professional advice on how to make buildings safe.

  • Heavy equipment, from local public works departments or private contractors. Make sure they can provide qualified operators. Many firefighters will claim they are qualified operators, but unless they actually do this for a living, get the equipment with operators if possible.

  • Lumber yards. Most collapse rescue operations require shoring and unless your department can afford to stock thousands of dollars of pneumatic shoring, lumber is the way to go. There is also no need to stockpile hundreds of feet of pressure treated lumber. Establish a list of recommended lumber with your local yard or supplier and be able to make contact 24/7.

  • Equipment rental companies. If your department cannot afford to stock some of the larger tools and equipment, make an arrangement with local rental companies to get this to the scene. One note of caution, do not make the incident scene the first time personnel use some of this equipment. Regularly scheduled training and continuing education sessions are a vital part of safely mitigating any response.

  • Search dogs. They can be an invaluable asset, especially in a large-scale collapse or a multi-building scenario. Make sure the dogs are trained for search and not the typical police dog. You can only imagine what would happen to a trapped person if the dog was only trained for apprehension!

  • Physicians / Nurses. Extended extrications may require advanced EMS care "in the hole". Depending on local protocol, this may require physicians to be dispatched to the scene to administer the care, and in the worst case scenario, perform an amputation.

  • FEMA National US&R teams. These large, fully equipped search and rescue teams can be a great resource to the incident commander. Research and locate the nearest team to your jurisdiction and determine the travel time. Make sure you include the 4-6 hour mobilization time for the team to muster, then add in the travel time. Requesting FEMA US&R resources are dictated by federal and state policies. For your local protocols, contact your state emergency operations center. For further information go to
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