The Criticality of Standards for Disaster Search and Rescue Capabilities

Captain Todd Livingston, St. Petersburg Fire & Rescue; Task Force Leader; FLTF-3 US&R Task Force; Chairman, Florida Association of Search and Rescue; and Vice President, State Urban Search and Rescue Alliance

Mrs. Nicole Ishmael, Executive Director, Emergency Management Accreditation Program

Nationally, the availability and operational capability of Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) rests upon 28 federally sponsored resources and numerous state US&R resources provided through governmental, private, and non-governmental organizations. These resources are “systems and capabilities”, so critical to the United States that the incapacitation of, or inability of such resource to deploy, has a debilitating effort on national and state response and recovery operations, public health and safety, or any combination of life, health, and safety related priorities throughout disasters.

The need for a catalog of National US&R resources was realized as an after-action item from the National Level Exercise of the New Madrid Earthquake Scenario. State and local government officials have a need to understand what resources including US&R are available to potentially assist during a disaster. It is critical for state and local officials to understand the various kinds and types of resources available to them when requesting mutual aid resources. That ensures the proper resources are ordered and with the developing catalog, Governors and Mayors ensure their requests are being met with the correct assets. The Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 (PKEMRA) requires that States receiving Federal preparedness assistance administered by FEMA will report on their levels of preparedness and that an assessment of current capabilities are established.

Organizationally, US&R represents capabilities that are not fully maximized during disaster; nor adequately recognized as “available” assets prior to impact from natural, technological, or human-caused events. Individual US&R capabilities of non-federal resources are not fully understood, or accepted, and suffer from policy, logistical and socio-perceptive isolation. To truly determine the nation’s US&R capability, a common assessment framework and methodology based on National standards must be established for the US&R infrastructure that considers and accepts individuality found within the whole-community.

The establishment of National standards for US&R teams and the assessment of tiered-response assets is critical to the reporting of National preparedness along with the criticality of ensuring that the right US&R Resource is getting to the scene of a disaster in a timely manner. US&R Resources and tiered-response assets against a set of American National Standards Institute (ANSI) certified national standards for emergency preparedness and response would ensure that happens.

To that end, the goal of achieving a truly national certified US&R system, recognized by all participants and communities in need, was spearheaded by many partners including the federal government, State Urban Search and Rescue Alliance and the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP). Over a series of working group meetings including representation from the National Preparedness Assessment Division (NPAD), FEMA US&R Branch, National Integration Center (NIC), federally sponsored US&R team members, SUSAR, the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) and EMAP, the standard Urban Search and Rescue Standard, was drafted and submitted for public comment. EMAP, as a recognized third-party standard development organization led the effort to write the Urban Search and Rescue standards along with providing peer-review assessments to validate US&R teams. The standard is scalable, modular, and consistent as written and reviewed by the whole community. The Urban Search and Rescue Standarddelivers a consistent set of criteria enabling US&R Resources the opportunity for enhancement and improvement. Nationally, the standard has and does provide a defined set of processes for US&R Resources to seek recognition through the EMAP Certification Program. Recognition for both hard work and dedication to the profession; having met established and accepted national criteria; and completing a self-assessment and independent peer assessment resulting in certification.

Administrative criteria established through the Urban Search and Rescue Standard and assessment processes established for taskforce teams provides the consistency necessary for independent certification. Certification and integration into mutual aid systems such as EMAC establish a common goal- deployment of the correct Resource, in the shortest time possible, to bring capabilities to the disaster scene. This certification can now be cataloged in an organization like EMAC providing a clearinghouse of validated and certified resources capable of providing resources to state and local governments in times of crisis. With a catalog of nationally EMAP certified US&R Resources, communities will be able to ensure that resources coming to bear during a disaster will be capable of assisting in the response operations and help to locating and caring for survivors.

Certification of US&R Resources doesn’t only provide recognition as a final outcome; rather, established a national system for recognition and capability that is required not only during disaster, but on a daily basis in our communities.


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