Search and rescue volunteers to participate in Texas exercise

Red Deer Search and Rescue volunteer Ric Henderson isn’t sure what he will be faced with in Texas this weekend — but he’s not ruling out earthquakes.

Red Deer Search and Rescue volunteer Ric Henderson isn’t sure what he will be faced with in Texas this weekend — but he’s not ruling out earthquakes.

“That’s the rumour. I guess we’ll find out when we get down there,” said Henderson, who is Red Deer County’s director of community and protective services.

That earthquake scenario is only one of many disaster aftermaths that can be recreated at a rescue training facility located at Texas A&M University in College Station, a city northwest of Houston.

“It’s quite the world-class facility down there,” said Henderson, who will be joined by six others from Search and Rescue’s 24-member technical search team. “They call it Disaster City.”

Henderson and other team members have an inkling of what they are in for after visiting the site last Labour Day weekend. On that visit, they honed their skills using specialized search cameras and acoustic listening devices.

“You can hear someone scratching 30 feet below you,” he said.

This weekend, the team will be taking part in a full-scale disaster exercise with Texas Task Force 1, a group of 300 responders from firefighters to medical personnel from 60 organizations and departments across Texas.

Henderson believes the local volunteers are the only Canadians joining about 80 of their Texas colleagues in the training session.

The Texans are no strangers to disaster. Task Force 1 is one of the most active search and rescue teams in the U.S.

Since it was formed in 1998, team members have responded to at least one major disaster each year, including the 9/11 World Trade Centre attacks, hurricane Katrina in 2005, and last fall’s hurricane Ike.

The 52-acre Disaster City features full-size collapsible buildings with special hiding places where live “victims” can be placed to test search skills. Strip malls, office buildings, industrial complexes, theatres and a single-family home have all been reduced to ruin.

A train derailment and rubble piles 6,000 to 15,000 square feet in size are also located at the facility, which serves as Task Force 1’s home training ground.

Buildings feature walls that can be moved and floors shifted up or down to create different scenarios.

Bev Sliger, Red Deer Search and Rescue president, said the facility is unmatched in North America and the training will be a boost to Alberta rescue capabilities.

“It will be very beneficial to Central Alberta, and Alberta in general. We have a lot of weather disasters in this province and others.”

Volunteers are paying their own way. It is expected to cost about $750 for each of them, including flight.

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