By Justin Pummell, Geographer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
SENTUL, Indonesia - The sun beats down relentlessly on another habitual afternoon, as those that cannot escape the heat wipe the sweat from their brow with a heavy and tired hand. Despite the warmth, the scene is tranquil and undisturbed. However, this static calm is thrust into a dynamic upheaval of chaos from the collision of tectonic plates. The ground shakes in a violent fit, and buildings fall wearily to the ground, lying in the shadows they once drew. The earthquake has caused a desperate need for emergency responders and survivors to report to the scene of the disaster and attempt to rescue those that remain trapped in the debris. Time is of the essence, and the responders must react quickly to the situation.
In most instances, we take those that run towards the scene of an emergency for granted. These brave and courageous individuals are our first responders that help rescue victims and save lives. If they are not properly trained, and understand how to navigate collapsed structures, then it remains likely they will become victims themselves. As such, those tasked with urban search and rescue continuously prepare, and they leverage experience and knowledge from around the world to enhance their capabilities and increase safe practices. Indonesia is no exception.
From May 27-30, representatives from Indonesia’s BNPB (National Disaster Management Agency) BASARNAS (National Search & Rescue Agency) and TNI (National Military) worked with subject matter experts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on structural engineering and collapse technician considerations in Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) practices. The workshop featured 27 participants from across Indonesia. Topics such as monitoring tools and techniques, collapse patterns, load paths, shoring, moving and lifting, breaching and breaking, anchors, heavy equipment and rigging awareness were presented. These topics were aligned with International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) standards. Additionally, lessons learned from recent rescue and recovery experiences in the US, Haiti and New Zealand were shared.
“We saw a passion in the students from Indonesia that is indicative of the same passion we see in America and other countries we have worked with over the past decade,” said Tom Niedernhofer, USACE US&R Program Manager. “All rescuers have to have that passion to enter the world of rescue response. It’s a prerequisite we learn from the fire and rescue communities at all levels across the globe. The time spent for training and readiness follow without resistance by the individuals who have a passion for Urban Search and Rescue. The passion for US&R by the Indonesian participants is without question…it exists!”
The USACE US&R Program deploys specially rescue-trained and equipped structural engineers (Structures Specialists) to augment the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces, incident support teams, military technical rescue organizations, and general purpose troops during structural collapse incidents and other disaster response missions. This rescue engineering capability provides technical support and advice to task force leaders and commanders to assess damage, mitigate hazards, enable safe entry, and assure mobility throughout a disaster site to enable rescue and life saving operations. Additionally, the US&R Program develops doctrine, training programs, and national standards for structural collapse response operations, conducts initial training courses, advanced coursework, exercises and continuing education for all FEMA Urban Search & Rescue Structures Specialists and others, under Emergency Support Function (ESF) #9 of the National Response Framework. USACE works closely with the FEMA US&R Structures Sub-Group, and the US&R Branch Office in Washington, DC. A strong alliance has been forged since the inception of the National US&R Response System was initiated over 20 years ago.
The US and Indonesia will continue to partner on urban search and rescue practices in the future. Each year, an annual disaster response field exercise takes place between the countries where participants can practice search and rescue techniques side-by-side to enhance capabilities. The US looks forward to a continued partnership with Indonesia to ensure the safety of its first responders and the ability for them to extract and recover victims in an efficient and secure manner.
Editor’s Note: The author of this article, USACE Geographer Justin Pummell,from the USACE Pacific Ocean Division (POD) and the Institute of Water Resources (IWR), supported the U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Army Pacific's Theater Security Cooperation program with the 2013 Indonesia Urban Search and Rescue Workshop. He and members of POD's Readiness and Contingency Operations Division facilitated the workshop for elements of the Indonesia Army and national government.