WMD-Ready National Urban Search and Rescue Response System

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WMD-Ready National Urban Search and Rescue Response System

For Immediate ReleaseFederal Emergency Management AgencyOctober 1, 2003

Today the Department of HomelandSecuritys Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that it has completed anaggressive program to train and equip the nations Urban Search and Rescue teams torespond to a WMD event.  This strengthening of a key element of the nationsfederal response capabilities follows a significant contribution of resources, trainingand equipment from the Bush Administration during the last year.  The National UrbanSearch and Rescue (US&R) Response System is a framework for structuring localemergency services personnel into integrated disaster response task forces. These taskforces complete with the necessary tools and equipment, skills and techniques, can bedeployed by the Department of Homeland Security for the rescue of victims of structuralcollapse.  

The Urban Search and RescueSystem

There are 28 national US&Rtask forces located throughout the continental United States, trained and equipped tohandle structural collapse. Any task force can be activated and deployed by FEMA to adisaster area and provide assistance in structural collapse rescue, or may bepre-positioned when a major disaster threatens a community. Each task force must have allits personnel and equipment at the embarkation point within six hours of activation. Thetask force can be dispatched and en route to its destination in a matter of hours.

Each task force is comprised of70 specialists, and is divided into six major functional elements: search, rescue,medical, hazmat, logistics and planning. The task force is divided into two 35-memberteams, which allows for the rotation and relief of personnel for round-the-clock searchand rescue operations.

Task forces also have theflexibility to reconfigure and deploy as one 28-person (Type-III) team to respond tosmall, primarily weather-driven incidents where the requirements would be physical,technical and canine search, and rescue in light, wood-frame construction. Such eventstypically include hurricanes, tornados, ice storms and typhoons.

Some of the capabilities of theUS&R task forces are:

  • Physical search and rescue operations in damaged/collapsed structures;
  • Operations in a known or suspected weapons-of-mass-destruction environment;
  • Emergency medical care for entrapped victims, task force personnel and search canines;
  • Reconnaissance to assess damage and needs, and provide feedback to other officials;
  • Assessment/shut-off of utilities to houses and other buildings;
  • Hazardous materials survey/evaluations;
  • Structural and hazard evaluations of buildings;
  • Stabilization of damaged structures, including shoring and cribbing operations; and
  • A 62,000-pound equipment cache, configured to quickly deploy with the team.

WMD Capability

The objective of the WMDpreparedness effort was to strengthen the capability of FEMAs Urban Search and RescueTask Forces to deploy immediately to the scene of a disaster or a structural collapse inan environment contaminated by Weapons of Mass Destruction or other hazardous materials. Homeland Security achieved this objective by enhancing the equipment and trainingand providing additional personnel to existing US&R task forces.  This included:

  • More than $20 million in grants to the 28 US&R task forces in the last year for the purchase of equipment, to provide WMD related training and to increase their general preparedness efforts to deploy their task forces.
  • More than $12 million worth of WMD-preparedness equipment purchased by FEMA and distributed to the 28 US&R Task Forces.
  • Five separate WMD-related train-the trainer programs conducted by the Department of Homeland Security to increase the instructor cadre of the Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces by locally training personnel in WMD-related courses.

As of September 30, 2003, all task forces are capable of responding to aknown or suspected weapons-of-mass-destruction incident. Task forces now have:

  • Additional staff Before the September 30 deadline, teams had 62 members; teams now have 70 members; the additional eight are hazardous materials managers and specialists.
  • Additional equipment Specialized WMD equipment allows for a minimum of 36 hours of continuous search and rescue operations (standard 72-hr self sufficiency still required for non-WMD operations). FEMA funding for WMD equipment: $12 million.
  • Additional training 6,900 US&R members have been trained for WMD operations, with a total of more than 100,000 hours of training.