Urban Search-and-Rescue Task Forces are supported by highly trained canines and canine handlers. All of FEMA’s US&R Task Forces have canine/handler teams, all of which are trained in urban search and rescue strategies and tactics.
Each canine/handler team must pass a rigorous national certification in urban search and rescue. Canine/handler teams must be re-certified every three years in order to participate in search and rescue operations. The canine must be at least 18 months old to attempt the test. Most canines test after they are two years old—well-trained and physically and emotionally mature enough to do this job.
For the handler, certification includes tests regarding search strategies and tactics, mapping, search and victim markings, briefing and debriefing skills, in addition to canine handling skills.
For the disaster search canine, certification includes proper command control, agility skills, a focused bark alert to indicate a live find, and a willingness to persist to search for live victims in spite of possible extreme temperatures and animal, food and noise distractions. The canine must also be confident enough to search independently and must be able to negotiate slippery surfaces, balance wobbly objects underneath his feet and go through dark tunnels.
The team tests on two large rubble piles for an unknown number of victims, implementing all of their knowledge, skills and abilities acquired from years of training. Teams that pass are some of the most highly trained canine resources in the country.