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Images of rescuers responding to the devastation of Sept. 11 continue to appear throughout the American media. How does an emergency responder prepare to answer that kind of call? The answer is through reality-based training exercises.

Texas Task Force 1 (TX-TF1) is conducting a full-scale “Operational Readiness Exercise” involving WMD April 18 — 20 in College Station, Texas. TX-TF1 is one of 28 teams in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) National Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Response System, and one of only six designated to respond to Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). This is the first time a FEMA USAR / WMD-designated team has conducted a full-scale exercise involving a WMD component.

“We recognize the importance of training,” says Dr. Kem Bennett. “Everything about this exercise is as realistic as possible, so when we’re called upon to serve, we know exactly what to do.”

The team participating in the exercise has experience: it is the same one that was deployed to the rescue mission at the World Trade Center last September.

The exercise begins with a “call-out” page to team members around the state who must report for duty within four hours. Upon arrival, task force members will check in, deploy to the site in “Disaster City,” receive a briefing on the incident, and conduct the rescue mission.

“Disaster City” is a 52-acre training facility filled with real collapsible structures, including a 10,000-square foot rubble pile where live victims with realistic-looking injuries will be “buried” within a system of tunnels. Live victims will also be placed throughout other structures, including a three-story pancake-collapsed building.

“The exercise will run at ‘real time’ for at least 40 hours,” says Tim Gallagher, Task Force Leader. “Team members will work 12-hour on/12-hour off shifts, then retire to their cots for rest. This is as close to a real operation as it gets.”

TX-TF1 is administered by the Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) and consists of rescue experts, hazardous material specialists, structural engineers, canine search teams and medical personnel.

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Kathy Fraser

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