Urban search and rescue (US&R) involves the location, rescue (extrication), and initial medical stabilization of individuals trapped in confined spaces. Structural collapse is most often the cause for people being trapped, but individuals may also be trapped in transportation accidents, mines, and collapsed trenches.
Urban search and rescue is considered a “multi-hazard” discipline, as it may be needed for a variety of emergencies or disasters, including earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons, storms, tornadoes, floods, dam failures, technological accidents, terrorist activities, and hazardous materials releases. The events may be slow in developing, as in the case of hurricanes, or sudden, as in the case of earthquakes.
In addition to the individual task forces, the System has three rostered Incident Support Teams (IST). An IST provides a group of highly qualified specialists readily available for rapid assembly and deployment to a disaster area to manage and support deployed system task forces. They also furnish federal, state, and local officials with technical assistance in acquiring, coordinating, and using US&R resources.
A Type I task force is made up of 70 multi-faceted, cross-trained personnel who serve in six major functional areas to include: search, rescue, medical, hazardous materials, logistics and planning. This task force also includes technical specialists such as physicians, structural engineers, and canine search teams. A task force is able to conduct physical search and heavy rescue operations in damaged or collapsed reinforced concrete buildings. Each task force can be divided into two 35 member teams to provide 24 hour search and rescue operations. The task forces can also be configured as a Type III US&R task force for searching lighter construction usually encountered in weather related events such as hurricanes and tornados. Self-sufficient for the initial 72 hours, the task forces are equipped with convoy vehicles to support over-the-road deployments.
What the task force can do:
•Conduct physical search and rescue operations in damaged/collapsed structures.
•Emergency medical care for entrapped survivors, task force personnel and search canines.
•Reconnaissance to assess damage and needs and provide feedback to local, state and federal officials.
•Assessment/shut off of utilities to houses and other buildings.
•Survey and evaluate hazardous material threats.
•Provide structural and hazard evaluations of buildings needed for immediate occupancy to support disaster relief operations.
•Stabilizing damaged structures, including shoring and cribbing.
•Hazardous Materials Equipment Push Packages (HEPP) for operations in a contaminated environment.
•US&R operations in a water environment.
The origins of the FEMA Task Forces goes back to the early 1980s when the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department and Metro-Dade County Fire Department created search and rescue teams to deal with rescue operations in collapsed buildings. The State Department and the Office of Foreign Disaster Aid requested the help of these teams to assist with rescue operations in the 1985 Mexico City, the 1990 Luzon and the 1989 Leninakan earthquakes.
Seeing the value in having a network of such teams in the United States, FEMA created the National Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) Response System in 1989. In 1992, the concept was incorporated into the Federal Response Plan first published in 1992 and was later retained in the National Response Plan and the National Response Framework. FEMA sponsored 25 national urban search-and-rescue task forces. The number of teams has expanded to 28 since 1991.