Volume 4 Number 28
July 16, 2007

Collaborative Effort Strengthens Florida’s Urban Search and Rescue Teams

Florida Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink said Floridians will be better protected this hurricane season now that dozens of law enforcement officers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) have been trained to deploy during natural or manmade disasters with the state’s nine Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) teams. CFO Sink, who coordinates search and rescue operations when the state’s Emergency Operations Center is activated, said Florida is the only state to have this kind of collaboration.

“During disasters, the state’s urban search and rescue task forces are among the first to be called out,” said CFO Sink. “Coordinating these teams better equips our state to respond to natural disasters and better protects our search and rescue personnel as they head into dangerous situations.”

The training was held last month at the Florida State Fire College, which is operated by the Division of State Fire Marshal’s Bureau of Fire Standards and Training. The FWC officers learned the role of the US&R Task Forces so that they can act as “force protection” and supplement local law enforcement officers who often are stretched thin during disasters. Hurricane Season began June 1 and continues through November 30.

Examples of the force protection that FWC teams may provide include guarding equipment while search and rescue task force members are in the field, or intervening in hostile situations. The FWC officers will also assist with various US&R team activities with water-related responses, navigating and transportation into devastated areas.

FWC Captain John Burton said their groups have deployed in past emergencies but that this training will help them work in a more informed way with the US&R teams. “The specialized equipment and training that FWC personnel have are great assets for responding to hurricanes or natural disasters. The predictions for an active hurricane season make our cooperation so much more important,” said Captain Burton.

To date, more than $45 million in Homeland Security funds have been funneled through the State Fire Marshal’s Office to provide more than 182,000 hours of disaster training and provide equipment for fire departments and emergency responders throughout the state. Since 2001, the task forces have been used to respond to hurricanes and tornadoes both in Florida and in neighboring states. For more information on the US&R training at the Florida State Fire College, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com and click on State Fire Marshal, Bureau of Fire Standards and Training.