STARKE, FLORIDA The Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) conducted an Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Operational Readiness Exercise in August for Florida’s statewide USAR teams to perform a real-world exercise with no advanced notice to the participants.
The significance of this exercise was that all eight statewide USAR teams, various emergency operations and incident response teams, the Florida State Fire Marshal and the Florida National Guard were all deployed to the same location to conduct wide-area search and rescue operations; water and collapsed structure rescue and recovery; and related logistics, communications and operational tasks.
The purpose of the exercise was to test the theory that emergency response times can be significantly decreased when all the associated teams work in tandem to activate and mobilize equipment and resources. The teams also tested Florida’s new “Alert Order” process, which is the statewide notice issued by Florida’s Office of the Governor that puts the teams on alert to begin the process for deployment for an actual statewide emergency.
“This was the largest Florida USAR exercise in our program’s history with over 300 participants,” Scott Chappell, former chief fire officer and USAR and hazardous materials program coordinator for the state of Florida, said in a news release.
“The August exercise built upon a smaller exercise that TEEX conducted for us in 2022 that concluded that the USAR teams receiving an alert order in advance were able to activate and mobilize six hours before teams with no advanced notice,” Chappell said. “This was a significant finding that will increase the number of survivors in a disaster. It was the partnership, teamwork and can-do attitude of the TEEX team that resulted in this successful exercise.”
The large-scale event took place at the Florida National Guard’s Camp Blanding Joint Training Center, which is a premier domestic and combat training facility near Gainesville in Starke, Florida.
The real-world USAR scenario was based around a liquefied natural gas pipeline explosion that resulted in severe structural collapses and infrastructure damage to multiple structures, as well as chemical contamination throughout the affected community. The exercise was designed so that all disciplines had scenarios to test their capabilities.
“This opportunity to exercise statewide resources and provide tactical integration of all USAR teams in one location was the key to the success of the Florida exercise,” said Ray Browning, a TEEX instructor.
“This systematic approach to conducting FEMA-equivalent training in the customer’s environment or at a TEEX facility, in addition to a capstone to the training in the form of real-world emergency response exercises with multiple agencies and stakeholders, is our strength,” Browning said.
For more information on how this type of whole-community approach to disaster training can be customized and scalable for any local or state jurisdiction to improve disaster coordination and response, visit teex.org/program/emergency-preparedness or contact one of our experts at [email protected] or (866) 878-8900.
Also, TEEX is a sponsor and an exhibitor at the State Urban Search & Rescue Alliance (SUSAR) National Urban Search and Rescue Conference at the Double Tree Hilton at Orlando Sea World, Orlando, Florida, Nov. 6-8.