COLLEGE STATION — Twenty-one canine search and rescue teams and 16 search team managers from nine states and Canada have deployed to the Texas Engineering Extension Service’s Disaster City this week as part of a new Disaster Canine Search Specialist course.
The canines and their handlers will learn the basic skills necessary to work safely and reliably in a collapsed structure environment, like was found most recently along the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. During the five-day, 50-hour course, the canine teams will cover obedience, bark alert, directability and agility, as well as perform actual searches on Disaster City’s three active rubble piles.
Training for the canine teams requires hundreds of hours, and handlers provide their services on a volunteer basis. Handlers also supply their own equipment and often train for years with their dog before participating in search and rescue missions.
Disaster City has become one of the top search and rescue canine training and education facilities in the country, having hosted FEMA’s prestigious Advanced National Disaster Canine Evaluation this past January. Disaster City 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, one of FEMA’s 28 national urban search and rescue teams and the only statewide search and rescue team in Texas. The Task Force, which most recently responded to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, currently includes 11 certified canine teams.
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. TEEX programs include fire, homeland security, law enforcement, public works, safety and health, search and rescue and technology transfer.