Edited Version of September 23, 1998 Transcript
EIIP Virtual Forum Panel Discussion

"Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Teams:
An Increasingly Important Response Capability?"

Featured Panelists:

Avagene Moore
EIIP Coordinator

Fred Krimgold
Director, Center for Building Health and Safety
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Dewey Perks
Project Officer, Special Programs Section
National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR)

The original transcript of the September 23, 1998 online Virtual Forum Panel Discussion is available on the EIIP Virtual Forum <http://www.emforum.org>. The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each were deleted but content of discussion, questions, and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers from the presenter to questions by the audience are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.


Avagene Moore: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! We are pleased to have experts on urban search and rescue with us today to talk about "Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Teams: An Increasingly Important Response Capability? " We feel this topic should be discussed because of the number of disasters we continue to have plus increased tensions in the world.

Please note that URLs given are hot links and you can pull them up in your browser window if you like. When our formal part of today's session is complete, we will give brief instructions on submitting questions for the Q&A part of our online discussion. And now to our introductions.


We regret that Mark Russo, FEMA Program Manager, National US&R Response System, can not be with us today; Mark and the majority of the R&R staff are responding to Hurricane Georges and are enroute to Florida. However, we have two distinguished speakers with us --- Fred Krimgold and Dewey Perks.

Fred is the Director of the Center for Building Health and Safety at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Fred has extensive experience in development, research and education, domestically and internationally.

Dewey is Project Officer in the Special Programs Section of the National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR); Dewey is also a 27-year veteran of the Fairfax County, Virginia Fire and Rescue Department and serves as a Task Force Leader for its urban search and rescue team, Virginia Task Force 1.

In the absence of our FEMA spokesperson today, I will overview the National Urban Search and Research (US&R) Response System as background for our speakers.


Avagene Moore: The National US&R Response System was established under the authority of FEMA in 1989. The US&R System is a framework for structuring local emergency services personnel into integrated disaster response task forces. These trained and equipped task forces can be deployed by FEMA for the rescue of victims of structural collapse.

When the federal government mobilizes resources and conducts activities to support state and local response efforts, it does so under 12 Emergency Support Functions (ESFs). Each ESF is lead by a primary agency, that has been selected based on its authorities, resources and capabilities in a particular functional area.

FEMA is the primary agency for ESF-9, Urban Search and Rescue.

<http://www.fema.gov/r-n-r/fed1.htm> A FEMA US&R Task Force is comprised of 62 specialists, and is divided into four major functional elements: Search, Rescue, Technical, and Medical.

Task Force members include structural engineers and specialists in the areas of hazardous materials, heavy rigging, search (including highly trained search dogs), logistics, rescue and medicine. By design, there are two task force members assigned to each position for the rotation and relief of personnel. This allows for round-the-clock task force operations.

Currently, there are 27 FEMA US&R Task Forces spread throughout the continental US trained and equipped by FEMA to handle structural collapse. They encompass local emergency services personnel from 18 states. Any task force can be deployed by FEMA to a major area disaster and provide assistance in the areas of structural rescue


And now I will turn the floor to Amy.


Amy Sebring: And now we turn to our guest speakers --- my first question is to Fred Krimgold, Virginia Tech. Fred, please tell us why and how you became involved in USAR?

Fred Krimgold: I am an architect concerned with building in Seismic areas. We really needed to know more detail about the actual mechanisms of injury and fatality in building failure. The only way to study the interaction of buildings and victims was to be there at the time of rescue. That meant contributing to the rescue operation.

I started with a detailed study of the Mexico City response then worked with the OFDA team that went to Armenia. I've since been on deployments to the Philippines and domestic earthquakes.


Amy Sebring: Fred, I understand you have experience in the field with search and rescue (S&R) teams; how did the first-hand experience benefit you and your research?

Fred Krimgold: We have learned a great deal about the specific reasons for death and injury. For example, many victims die of suffocation from the dust of collapsing buildings. We have also learned about the characteristics of populations at risk.


Amy Sebring: In your opinion, what element of the S&R process is still most in need of research?

Fred Krimgold: At this point, the search area is most in need of development. Dogs are amazing but we need to expand our capacity for location and assessment of trapped victims. You can't save them if you can't find them.


Amy Sebring: Has there been a cost/benefit analysis of urban search & rescue?

Fred Krimgold: Not formally, USAR is very expensive in terms of lives saved! It would be very difficult to defend USAR on a cost basis. The success rate is very low. We must do it and we must do it as well as possible but response should never compete with mitigation.

Amy Sebring: Thank you, Fred, for your insight into this topic.

Our next questions go to Dewey Perks, NASAR and Rep of Fairfax County, VA Task Force #1. Dewey, please tell us about the National Association of Search and Rescue (NASAR), its purpose, goals, and membership.

Dewey Perks: NASAR is a membership association comprised of thousands of dedicated career and non-paid professionals ---all active or interested in search and rescue, disaster aid, emergency medicine, and awareness education. We are a self-supporting, not-for-profit association. We are interested in all aspects of search and -the humanitarian cause of saving lives throughout the United States and around the world. Our primary goal is to aid in the implementation of a total, integrated emergency response, rescue, and recovery system that others may live.


Amy Sebring: How are NASAR and the US&R Task Forces related?

Dewey Perks: That's a good question. NASAR has enjoyed a long relationship in the development of Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) Task Forces. Our Special Program Manager, Chuck Mills, is an internationally known subject matter expert in US&R system development, deployment, and training.

Mr. Mills' last assignment with the federal government was with the State Department's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA). While there, he was instrumental in the early development of US&R in the international arena and drawing Fairfax County into play.

This involvement led to the deployment of US Teams from Metro-Dade County, FLA and Fairfax County, VA to earthquakes in Armenia (1988) and the Philippines (1990).


Amy Sebring: How much training is involved in being a member of a US&R Task Force?

Dewey Perks: The training required to become a FEMA US&R member is never ending. One must first recall the premise behind the development of a US&R Task Force --- being better able to mitigate a large scale urban disaster in the Sponsoring Organization's area of control. With that in mind, it is easy to relate the thought that all training is then relative, you just need to gear it toward doing in the dark, in a decimated community, and be prepared to do it 20-30 feet underground!

Many of the techniques of shoring, lifting, or breaking steel reinforced concrete come from the construction industry and the US Army Corps of Engineers. Technical Search techniques using canine or electronic equipment has evolved from the European continent while treating the victims of crush injury syndrome have been advanced here at home.


Amy Sebring: Do they drill on a regular basis?

Dewey Perks: The frequency of the training depends on the team. Some teams train weekly, some monthly and others only 2 or 3 times a year


Amy Sebring: When and where has the Virginia US&R Task Force been deployed? Besides those locations you have already mentioned.

Dewey Perks: Thank you for asking. The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department first developed a US&R asset within our Department during the late 1970 building boom. We became first involved in going outside our county assisting with numerous technical rescues in surrounding jurisdictions.

Besides Armenia and the Philippines, Virginia Task Force 1 has been activated for FEMA responses to Hurricane Emily, Oklahoma City, the Northridge earthquake, the Atlanta Olympic Standby, and most recently the State Department deployment to the bombing in Nairobi, Kenya.


Amy Sebring: How is the Task Force motivated and kept at top form between activations?

Dewey Perks: That is a question that we, as managers, ask ourselves nearly every day. Recruitment retention of Task Force members is a high priority throughout the National Response System. It becomes difficult to maintain everyone's interest when you consider that only 62 people (with four search canines) deploy on a mission, when we are staffed three deep in most positions (186 total staff). Also consider that nearly all training (minimally 12-hours per month) is performed without compensation, in addition to your normal work schedule. This training is normally done on week-ends to ensure non-career members can fully participate.

Amy Sebring: Thank you, Dewey.

Dewey Perks: Thank you very much.

Amy Sebring: Before we get to our audience questions, I would like both Fred and Dewey to address our theme topic, that is, do you feel that Urban Search and Rescue will be increasingly important in the years ahead with increasing world tensions and continuing severe natural disasters? Fred?

Dewey Perks: Sorry to leave the forum, but I must get back on the phone.

Amy Sebring: OK Dewey, thank you very much. While Fred is typing, we will review the procedure for Q&A. Please submit a question mark (?) to indicate you have a question or comment; wait for recognition from the moderator before sending your question to our remaining speaker! Please go ahead, Fred.

Fred Krimgold: Yes, I am afraid so. We have a large and unfortunately increasing stock of hazardous buildings in the world. Until we begin to get control of building quality and location, we will need US&R.

Kevin Farrell: Just a comment, Amy, on where the task force members come from. Most of them are active-duty rescue personnel who work in the technical rescue field everyday. The task forces are comprised of specially trained people from many departments and as such, their training is ongoing and practiced in the field everyday.

Amy Sebring: Thank you, Kevin. We also invite anyone else in our audience to contribute their knowledge. Avagene.


Avagene Moore: Fred, I know you served on a USAR team. What kind of retention problems do the teams have? Or is there a problem in that arena?

Fred Krimgold: That is important. Local organizations are on the job constantly. Federal international mobilization only happens from time to time. This is a very good example of intergovernmental cooperation.


Isabel McCurdy: Is suffocation from dust the cause of death more prevalent in the countries that aren't industrialized?

Fred Krimgold: It is the case in both adobe and in reinforced concrete, so it happens everywhere.


Amy Sebring: Fred, are there international agreements that pertain to this? Under what framework do international deployments occur?

Fred Krimgold: International deployments have been organized or coordinated through the UN. There are coordinators for Asia (Japan), the Western Hemisphere(US), and Europe and Africa(Germany). There is also quite a lot of international cooperation in development and training. There is an organization of the US&R teams of the CIS and Eastern European countries. There is a major effort to develop in country capability in hazard prone areas.


Gil Gibbs: It flashed in my mind about earthquakes. Adobe and other earthen structures are quite common, as Isabel noted, so it only follows that those countries would have big problems, but are there figures kept?

Amy Sebring: I have understood Fred's remarks to mean that both industrialized and non-industrialized countries have a problem with earthquakes, Gil. Fred, still with us? John, let's try your comment/question.


JD Anderson: I'm interested in evacuations as they pertain particularly to fire. Recently, in Florida, 40K people had to be moved out. And in Canada, 8K people were removed in the face of fire. What, if anything, is the interface between evacuation personnel and S&R? I represent interests which have the world's largest water bombing aircraft. Naturally, we don't want to hurt anyone with the liquids on urban interface fires.


Amy Sebring: Yes, that is a good point, John; also early warning would pertain as well. In the case of terrorist bombings, it would be difficult to provide any warning and evacuation. Fred, do you have a comment on John's question?

Fred Krimgold: US&R began with a very narrow mission: saving victims in collapsed structures. Since that beginning it has been appropriate to expand the mission to include work related to other disaster impacts which would benefit from the skills of the teams. Evacuation is not a primary job of US&R teams but they are organized, self-supporting and available.


Kevin Farrell: All of the FEMA USAR teams that I'm aware of are based in urban areas, however I know of highly skilled technical rescue folks that are in more rural locales. Has there been any effort to tap some of these non-urban resources? For the teams?

Fred Krimgold: The Task Forces require a significant management capability and a lot of local support. Major Urban areas are the ones with that capacity. Many individual specialists are brought in for special skills on most of the Task Forces.


Isabel McCurdy: Do you know what type of mask would prevent the inhalation of dust?

Fred Krimgold: This is very tough. People can't wear masks in anticipation of an earthquake. Generally, any cloth or effort to protect airways may help.

Final Question:

Rick Tobin: Has any USAR team looked into the Y2K problems associated with their equipment, e.g., oxygen monitors with embedded chips, etc.?

Fred Krimgold: I really don't know. That question should be raised with FEMA (Russo) or with NASAR which is in touch with all the Task Forces.

Amy Sebring: Thank you so much, Fred. Especially for hanging in there with us when the rest of the world is being deployed it seems. Thank you audience also for hanging in here with us. Avagene, next week?

Avagene Moore: Thanks, Amy. Next week, join us for the Round Table on Tuesday, Sept 29, 1:00 PM EDT and in the Technical Arena on Wednesday, Sept 30, 12:00 Noon EDT when Mark Whitney, FEMA Mitigation Directorate, presents a session on Spatial Data and GIS in the EM Lifecycle. Thanks, Fred. This was rough on you.

Amy Sebring: Assuming HE doesn't get deployed!

Fred Krimgold: Glad to have been here. Sometimes it helps not to be to close to operations.

Avagene Moore: I am glad I am not close to any of it right now.

Terry Storer: I'd like to say "Keep Safe" to VA-1 and MD-1 as they deploy to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Amy Sebring: Good thought, Terry. OK, let's head on over to the Virtual Forum room, if you like, for some open discussion.