COLLEGE STATION — Canine search and rescue teams from across the country will deploy to Disaster City Jan. 14-16 as the Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) hosts the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s prestigious Advanced National Disaster Canine Evaluation.
The event, which is the first advanced Type I evaluation to be held in Texas, will include the search and rescue canines for inclusion into one of 28 national FEMA-designated task forces that respond to manmade and natural disasters, such as last year’s hurricanes.
It takes approximately two years for a canine to become “mission ready” and able to participate in the FEMA evaluation. Handlers train their dogs extensively in the areas of obedience, agility, directability and rubble search. In the upcoming national evaluation, the dogs will be assessed on their ability to climb ladders, walk elevated planks and teeter-totters, crawl through tunnels and search extensive rubble piles.
The evaluation will certify the canines with FEMA Type II (basic) or Type I (advanced) status. Currently in the United States, there are only 66 basic and 63 advanced canine search teams. Training time requires hundreds of hours, and handlers provide their services on a volunteer basis. They also supply their own equipment and often train for years with their dog before participating in the stringent FEMA evaluations.
Disaster City has become one of the top search and rescue canine training and education facilities in the country. It features a host of full-scale, collapsible structures for search and rescue operations, in addition to three concrete and wood rubble piles, which are fortified with interior mazes of tunnels for live “victim” placement.
The training facility is also home to the TEEX-sponsored Texas Task Force 1, a national FEMA search and rescue team, which currently includes nine certified canine teams. Texas Task Force 1 has responded to 9/11, the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster and most recently, Hurricane Ivan along the Gulf Coast.
TEEX, a member of The Texas A&M University System, offers hands-on, customized training, exercises, technical assistance and technology transfer services impacting Texas and beyond.