In the early 1980s, the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue and Miami-Dade Fire Rescue created elite search and rescue (US&R) teams trained for rescue operations in collapsed buildings. Working with the United States State Department and Office of Foreign Disaster Aid, these teams provided vital search and rescue support for catastrophic earthquakes in Mexico City, the Philippines and Armenia.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) established the National Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) Response System in 1989 as a framework for structuring local emergency services personnel into integrated disaster response task forces. In 1991, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) incorporated this concept into the Federal Response Plan (now the National Response Framework), sponsoring 25 national urban search-and-rescue task forces.
Events such as the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City, the Northridge earthquake, the Kansas grain elevator explosion in 1998 and earthquakes in Turkey and Greece in 1999 underscore the need for highly skilled teams to rescue trapped victims. The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 thrust FEMA's Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) teams into the spotlight. Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 25, 2005 hitting most of Miami, Fl. Killing 11 people then strengthening to a category #5 (wind speed to 156+ mph and storm surge of 13 to 18 feet above normal) storm on August 28, 2005. Katrina came ashore near the Louisiana, Mississippi border on Monday August 29, 2005. On August 30th flooding from the hurricane caused the breach of two levees in New Orleans. Reports estimate that 80% of New Orleans was inundated by 25 to 35 feet of water with thousands of occupants assumed to have drowned. This hurricane tested the entire national response system and the US&R system with enormous search and rescue challenges. Their important work transfixed a world and brought a surge of gratitude and support.
Today there are 28 national task forces staffed and equipped to conduct round the clock search and rescue operations following earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, aircraft accidents, hazardous materials spills and catastrophic structure collapses. These task forces complete with necessary tools and equipment, and required skills and techniques, can be deployed by FEMA for the rescue of victims of structural collapse.