In anticipation of Hurricane Irene, FEMA deployed the Virginia Task Force 1 (VATF-1), Fairfax County’s urban search and rescue team to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. You may remember the VATF-1 from earlier this year; we deployed to Japan in response to the devastating earthquake in March of 2011 (under the direction of the Department of State). Our team is currently staged in Fayetteville and prepared to be mobilized as Hurricane Irene continues its path.
While waiting for orders, the task force, made up of a 77 member team and four search canines, is currently undergoing classroom-type training. This training prepares us for many types of disaster related situations, such swift-water activities and other related storm activities, including flooding and structural collapse. We are standing ready at this moment, but once we are activated, we’ll be on the move within an hour to provide assistance to the affected areas.
The task force consists of technical search and rescue specialists, structural engineers, physicians, paramedics, search canines, and communications and planning specialists. Our team can conduct physical search and heavy rescue operations in damaged or collapsed reinforced concrete buildings. In most cases, we are assigned to do specialized work in dangerous and hazardous areas that are inaccessible to residents and locals. If the team received orders through FEMA right now, we’d dispatch to the location, do an assessment and began the search.
We would search for:
- Stranded citizens
- Citizens trapped in damaged structures
- Severely injured victims with accessibility limits
The task force is part of a major network across the nation. There are 28 Urban Search and Rescue Teams dedicated to bring together federal, state and local partner emergency response into the National Urban Search & Rescue Response System. All teams can be activated for major disasters to assist in rescuing victims or to assist in other search and rescue missions.