Report from Haiti: Through the Eyes of Urban Search and Rescue Teams

March 2010 – “Report from Haiti: Through the Eyes of Urban Search and Rescue Teams”

The world has watched with concern as the people of Haiti cope with the unprecedented devastation of earthquake of January 12, 2010. This report was a first-hand account of one of America’s most experienced Urban Search and Rescue responders. It was geared to the lay person, as well as those interested in emergency management and technical rescue. Battalion Chief Collins is also a member of the Advisory Board for the College’s Christian Regenhard Center for Emergency Response Studies (RaCERS). A follow-up discussion was held and focused on a research agenda for urban search and rescue.

More than 50 John Jay students, faculty members, alumni and guests attended “Report from Haiti: Through the Eyes of Urban Search and Rescue Teams.”. Other co-sponsors included the Office of Student Development, IAEM Student Chapter, and the Homeland Security Club. Outside attendees included representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); New York Police Department; and the NYS Senate.

Speakers included FDNY Battalion Chief Joe Downey, Special Operations Command, and Lt. Tom Donnelly, (FDNY Rescue 1), both of whom are part of NY-TF1, the City’s urban search and rescue team.

The presentation was followed by a Question and Answer session lasted more than two hours, coming to a close shortly after noon. The moving presentation included many onsite photographs taken only hours following the massive 7.0 January 12 earthquake devastated Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince, killing thousands and destroying thousands of buildings.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), under the authority of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, led the U.S. government’s response efforts. The Los Angeles (Calif.) and Fairfax County (Va.) US&R Task Forces were activated and deployed by USAID pursuant to existing agreements. In addition, four U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) US&R Task Forces, from Virginia Beach (Va.), New York (N.Y.), Miami-Dade (Fla.), and Miami (Fla.), were sent to Haiti. This was the first time that FEMA had sent US&R Task Forces outside the United States. Collectively, these six US&R teams rescued at least 47 people from underneath collapsed buildings, according to Gunnar J. Kuepper, IAEM-USA Region 9 President.

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