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OEM Featured Event: NYC US&R Faces Katrina Damage

US&R Supports Katrina Rescue Efforts in Mississippi

On August 30, 2005, 36 members of New York's elite Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) Team answered FEMA's call to search among the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina near Gulfport, Mississippi.

New York Task Force 1 (NY-TF1), one of just 28 US&R teams nationwide, was deployed from Sept. 1-7 to a coastal region of Hancock County, MS. Put on alert Aug. 28, the team received the call to mobilize two days later. By September 1, it had established a base of operations at the Gulf Island Waterpark, near Gulfport, alongside other US&R units. Once on site, NY-TF 1 needed only two hours of set-up time to become "an up-and-running functional team," according to NYPD Detective Brian Hastings, a member of NY-TF 1. Describing the team's attitude, he added "we were ready to go to work."

Members of NY-TF 1 search debris left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina for survivors.

Working 12 hour shifts, NY-TF 1 performed rescue and recovery operations near Gulfport, a coastal area that had been inundated by a 30-foot storm surge. Some buildings had been picked up and deposited one mile inland by the flood waters. The unit combed through debris and searched homes for survivors.

Although the team began with a mindset of rescue, its work ultimately became about recovery because of the level of destruction. Entire neighborhoods lay in ruins and NY-TF 1 faced the daunting task of searching acres of leveled buildings. In one week, the unit searched approximately 1,600 structures and recovered three bodies.

Mississippi residents received NY-TF1 gratefully, although some expressed surprise at seeing a rescue team from New York. For Detective Hastings, however, it was "the least we could do" given all the help New York City had received following September 11, 2001.

"We were hoping to help make a difference," he said.

Operating as a type 3, or light unit, the team consisted of 28 members plus an eight-person support staff. NY-TF1 includes volunteers from NYC Fire Department's Special Operations Command (SOC) and NYC Police Department's Emergency Service Unit (ESU). US&R team members must complete regular training modules sanctioned by FEMA and specifically designed for the unique demands of urban disasters.

US&R units must be able to operate self-sufficiently for the first 72 hours on site.