DENVER – When Colorado towns were cut off, streets flooded and people stranded, members of five task forces of FEMA Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) arrived to help. Task force members from Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada and Utah searched house-to-house and helped flood survivors evacuate.
Members of the Nebraska Task Force created different ways to reach survivors and their homes. Making their way through flood waters, rescuers used poles to navigate the debris under water.
“In a normal river, it’s known what your hazards are,” said Lloyd Mueller of the Lincoln Fire and Rescue division of Nebraska Task Force One. “Here in urban flooding, it’s not known. Everything has changed. The landscape has changed, and the river has shifted course.”
Each US&R Task Force is comprised of 70 members and four canines. Team members include physicians, first responders, hazardous material specialists and structural engineers. The team is set up with equipment and vehicles so it can be self-sufficient for the first 72 hours of operations.
When disaster strikes a community, within six hours, FEMA deploys the three closest task forces. The 28 national task forces support state and local emergency responders during disasters such as the Colorado flooding or catastrophic structure collapses such as the Murrah Federal Building, World Trade Center or Pentagon. When not on an assignment, many task force members serve in their local communities as first responders, firefighters or paramedics.
“This program is incredibly unique. You can see some of the incidents we’ve had over the last 15 years where the local government and state government get overwhelmed,” said Niko King, US&R Incident Support Team information officer. “To have these teams here within hours of when a community is impacted has been incredibly invaluable.”