Profile of a Rescue

Main Content

While every search-and-rescue assignment is unique, a rescue might go something like this:

  • Response always begins at the local level. Local fire departments, emergency management, and local and state law enforcement are the first to arrive at the scene and begin rescue and response.
  • Following a disaster, the local emergency manager may request assistance from the state; if the need is great, the state may in turn request federal assistance; in the event of a major disaster, FEMA deploys three of the closest task forces.
  • After arriving at the site, structural specialists, who are licensed professional engineers charged with making the rescue safe for the rescuers, provide direct input to the FEMA task force members about structural integrity of the building and the risk of secondary collapses.
  • Heavy equipment is used to remove large rubble and debris that could injure rescue workers and impede rescue operations.
  • The search team ventures around and into the collapsed structure, carefully shoring up structures while attempting to locate trapped victims. Rescuers use electronic listening devices, extremely small search cameras and specially trained search dogs to help locate victims.
  • Once a victim is located, the search group begins the daunting task of breaking and cutting through thousands of pounds of concrete, metal, and wood to reach the victims. They also stabilize and support the entry and work areas with wood shoring to prevent further collapse.
  • Medical teams, composed of trauma physicians, emergency room nurses and paramedics, provide medical care for the victims as well as the rescuers. A fully stocked mobile emergency room is part of the task force equipment cache. Medics may be required to enter the dangerous interior of the collapsed structure to render immediate aid.
  • Throughout the effort, hazardous materials specialists evaluate the disaster site, and decontaminate rescue and medical members who may be exposed to hazardous chemicals or decaying bodies.
  • Heavy rigging specialists direct the use of heavy machinery, such as cranes and bulldozers. These specialists understand the special dangers of working in a collapsed structure, and help to ensure the safety of the victims and rescuers inside.
  • Technical information and communication specialists ensure that all team members can communicate with each other and the task force leaders, facilitating search efforts and coordinating evacuation in the event of a secondary collapse.
  • Logistics specialists handle the more than 16,000 pieces of equipment to support the search and extrication of the victims. The equipment cache includes such essentials as concrete cutting saws, search cameras, medical supplies, and tents, cots, food and water to keep the task force self-sufficient for up to four days.
Last Updated: 
07/24/2014 - 16:00
Back to Top