Citizens as Rescuers in Building Collapses

It is not about urban search and rescue teams.

by Eric Holdeman / September 12, 2016

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has established, in cooperation with local jurisdictions, Urban Search and Rescue Teams

These teams are scattered around the United States as shown in the link above. These are the teams that can help in building collapse situations like the Oklahoma City bombing. They are highly trained with specialized equipment and teams to deal with searching for, finding and attempting the rescue of people trapped in the rubble of a building. 

Last week, at an after action review meeting from the June 2016 Cascadia Rising Earthquake Exercise, these figures were shared. I think they come from the Los Angeles Fire Department. It shows what percentages of people trapped and rescued are done at which level:

Search and Rescue

5% entombed, heavy rescue capability
15% void space non-structural, medium rescue capability
30% non-structural entrapment, light rescue capability
50% injured but not trapped, spontaneous program

The above points to the fact that the clear majority of people being rescued are not the results of urban search and rescue teams. The people performing rescues are co-workers; neighbors; passers-by on the street. ... Few if any have any training at all or likely no equipment other than those tools immediately at hand. 

Here in the Puget Sound region I recall that light urban search and rescue trainings were offered to companies so that their internal staff would have the ability to extricate people who were trapped within a building. Some buildings have equipped floors with some specialized equipment, like crowbars, hydraulic jacks, blocking material, gloves, etc.

A little bit of forethought could be invaluable in having the tools necessary to provide meaningful help. A few hours of training could be all the difference in keeping people safe and giving them the basic instruction needed to make them much more effective.