By PAUL COWLEY
After digging through metres of rubble and boring through concrete walls to find trapped victims of a simulated earthquake, Red Deer Search and Rescue volunteers learned they can hold their own with the best disaster experts.
Seven local volunteers were in Texas last weekend for a two-day exercise with about 60 members of Texas Task Force 1, a group of 300 responders from 60 emergency response organizations and departments from across the state.
“We learned we’re really on track with what we’re doing compared to the guys who have been doing it for a long time,” said Ric Henderson, a Search and Rescue team leader who made the trip to Texas.
“We fit right into their (organizational) structure and they accepted us very readily.”
Henderson said their U.S. counterparts invited them back and told them they were welcome to help out in a real disaster any time.
That was high praise considering Texas Task Force 1 is one of the most active search and rescue teams in the U.S. with hurricanes Katrina and Ike and 9/11 as just a few of the group’s recent challenges. Since it was formed in 1998, the task force has responded to at least one major disaster every year.
The weekend disaster was a mock exercise — an earthquake, 7.2 on the Richter scale, somewhere in Tennessee. It was staged at Disaster City, a 52-acre site complete with demolished buildings and towering piles of rubble that serves as Task Force 1’s home training facility. It is located at Texas A&M University in the city of College Station.
More than 100 emergency medical technician students played victims as part of the exercise. About 40 were found above ground, but 63 were trapped amidst the rubble.
In one exercise, four of Red Deer Search and Rescue team members were called on to crawl through a collapsed building to find three victims entombed in a specially designed cavity.
“It was quit the process to get them out,” Henderson said. Rescuers had to find their way through a culvert and climb down a three-metre shaft to reach the victims.
The danger of aftershocks meant rescuers had to reinforce their route through the rubble with wooden beams. They then needed to find a way to get the victims out.
The whole process took eight hours.
Meanwhile, other team members were faced with the prospect of finding victims trapped behind a solid concrete wall. Jackhammers and drills had to be used to create a hole big enough to pull out those trapped.
Henderson, who is Red Deer County’s director of community and protective services, said his job was to shadow the rescue organizers, an experience that also proved valuable.