Urban Search And Rescue: Commonly Asked Questions

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Release date: 
September 18, 2001
Release Number: 
HQ-01-115

» Information on US&R Task Force Participation

Gus, a rescue dog from Tennessee Task Force One Urban Serach and Rescue team waits to enter the crash site at the Pentagon.
Arlington, VA, September 14, 2001 -- Gus, a rescue dog from Tennessee Task Force One Urban Serach and Rescue team waits to enter the crash site at the Pentagon. Photo by Jocelyn Augustino/ FEMA News Photo

Washington, D.C., September 18, 2001 -- The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have thrust FEMA's Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) teams - and rescue teams in general - into the spotlight. Their important work has transfixed a world, brought a surge of gratitude and support, and raised many questions. Below are some answers to questions being asked about US&R and the rescue efforts.

Q. What is FEMA's National US&R response system?

A. This system is a framework for structuring local emergency personnel into integrated disaster response task forces. These task forces, complete with necessary tools and equipment, and specialized training and skills, are deployed by FEMA in times of catastrophic structural collapse.

Q. How many FEMA US&R teams are there?

A. There are 28 teams: one from Arizona; eight from California; one from Colorado; two from Florida; two from Virginia, and one each from Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Washington State.

Q. How are FEMA US&R teams different from other search and rescue teams?

A. FEMA teams organize existing search and rescue capability into a national program that can quickly deploy to an event. They have additional training, and must be able to deploy within six hours and to sustain themselves for 72 hours. They must also have a roster that fills 31 different positions with at least two people for each position. To receive the FEMA certification, the team must be approved by a US&R oversight board that includes leaders in the field and FEMA officials. One of the difficulties in obtaining the certification is being able to staff a complete roster of at least 62 trained individuals.

Q. What kind of positions make up the 31 in each team?

A. First, all team members are trained and certified emergency medical technicians. Then positions fall into roughly four categories: search and rescue; medical; technical and logistics. The search and rescue positions include engineers with expertise in shoring up, bracing, evaluating, breaching and lifting structural components, rescue specialists, and search specialists who use trained and credentialed search dogs, cameras and listening devices. The medical positions include physicians, EMTs, nurses and others who can set up and staff a mobile field hospital. Technical positions include hazard materials specialists and communications specialists, among others.

Q. What are the first steps the teams take when they arrive at a site?

A. The FEMA US&R team meets with the field incident commander - the local firefighter or emergency specialist who is in charge of the site. After a general situation update and briefing, some team members set up a base of operations at the site, including tents, equipment and a stage area. Meanwhile, search and rescue specialists and structural engineers inspect the site. They look for major problem areas, likely areas to search, the conditio...

Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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