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Urban Search & Rescue

The National Urban Search & Rescue (US&R) Response System (the System), established under the authority of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 1989, is a framework for organizing federal, state and local partner emergency response teams as integrated federal disaster response task forces. The System’s 28 US&R task forces can be deployed by FEMA to a disaster area to provide assistance in structural collapse rescue, or they may be pre-positioned when a major disaster threatens a community.

The System is a vital federal asset to support the continuous operation of critical government and business functions that are essential to human health and safety, or economic security.

The task forces are equipped and ready to deploy within six hours in various response models. When federal support is anticipated prior to an event such as a hurricane, System resources are often pre-positioned along with other federal responders to expedite support following the disaster.  

Each NIMS Type 1 US&R task force is composed of 70 members specializing in search, rescue, medicine, hazardous materials, logistics and planning, including technical specialists such as physicians, structural engineers and canine search teams. The task forces can split into two NIMS type 3 US&R task forces with 35-members each to conduct around-the-clock search and rescue operations in 12-hour shifts. 

What are the capabilities of a task force?

  • Physical search and rescue operations in damaged/collapsed structures
  • Emergency medical care for entrapped survivors, task force personnel and search canines
  • Reconnaissance to assess damage and needs, and provide feedback to local, state, tribal, territorial and federal officials. 
  • Assessment/shut-off of utilities to houses and other buildings
  • Hazardous materials surveys/evaluations
  • Structural/hazard evaluations of buildings needed for immediate occupancy to support disaster relief operations
  • Stabilizing damaged structures, including shoring and cribbing operations on damaged buildings
  • Hazardous Materials Equipment Push Packages for operations in a contaminated environment
  • Search and rescue operations in a water environment

Water Operations

At least 14 members of each 70-member, Type I US&R task force are trained for rescue operations in various water environments. These self-sufficient teams can be deployed as a Water Rescue Mission Ready Package. These teams work alongside local rescuers to help reach and recover survivors (and their household pets and/or companion animals) trapped by flood waters.

  • Task forces have four 16-foot, flat bottom Jon boats, two inflatable rescue boats, outboard motors and personal protective equipment.
  • Water rescue specialists are trained to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1006 standard: Professional Qualifications of the Technical Rescuer.

How is a Task Force Deployed?

Disaster response is locally executed, state/territory managed and federally supported. Local fire departments, emergency management, and local and state law enforcement are the first to arrive at the scene and begin rescue.

Following a disaster, the local emergency manager may request assistance from the state/territory; if response requirements are beyond the capabilities of the state or territory, federal assistance may be requested.   

Join a Task Force

If you are interested in joining an existing Urban Search and Rescue Task Force, you should contact the US&R Task Force in your state or your state or local emergency management office.