As two separate hurricanes battered the states of Texas and Florida just days apart, trained California personnel was strategically positioned to answer a request for assistance if needed. Within hours, members of the Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces (US&R) and Swiftwater/Flood Rescue were deployed to aid in the response of both hurricanes.
Requests for swiftwater teams through the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) came via the State to State Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), while deployment of US&R teams came at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Hurricane Harvey made landfall on August 25 on the Gulf Coast. According to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Harvey was downgraded to a tropical storm due to a drop in wind speeds and storm intensity. Meanwhile, life-threatening and devastating flooding along the Texas coast extended for days after the storm had passed due to heavy rainfall and storm surge. Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster for 30 Texas counties in anticipation of Harvey making landfall.
Harvey set a new rainfall record with more than 51 inches in the Cedar Bayou gauge near Highlands, Texas, according to the National Weather Service. The previous record for rainfall in the continental U.S. was 48 inches, also in Texas, during Tropical Storm Amelia in 1978.
In response to Harvey, California Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. approved the deployment of eight Urban Search and Rescue teams: CA-Task Force 5 (Orange County Fire Authority), CA-TF1 (Los Angeles City Fire Department), CA-TF4 (Oakland City Fire Department), CA-TF8 (San Diego City Fire Department), CA-TF2 (Los Angeles County Fire Department), CA-TF3 (Menlo Park Fire Department), CA-TF6 (City of Riverside Fire Department) and CA-TF7 (Sacramento City Fire Department). Two additional Swiftwater/Flood Rescue teams from Long Beach City Fire Department and Ventura County Fire Department were both deployed on August 31.
In addition to Urban Search and Rescue and Swiftwater Rescue assets, California deployed the 129th Para Rescue Unit and RC26 Ariel Reconnaissance Aircraft from the National Guard; two Disaster Medical Assistance Teams; and an EMAC/Incident Support Team Specialist.
In Florida, Hurricane Irma was one of the strongest hurricanes to ever form in the Atlantic Ocean. Thousands of residents were evacuated in advance of landfall, with a Hurricane Watch and Storm Surge Watch issued for portions of South Florida and the Florida Keys. Governor Rick Scott also declared a state of emergency in all 67 counties in anticipation of the impacts of Hurricane Irma.
Governor Brown approved the deployment of Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) Task Force 1 (CA-TF1) Los Angeles Fire Department and Task Force 4 (CA-TF4) Oakland Fire Department. Additionally, the deployments of Task Force 3 (CA-TF3) Menlo Park Fire Protection District and Task Force 8 (CA-TF8) San Diego City Fire Rescue Department were deployed after having recently returned to California from Hurricane Harvey before repositioning to assist in the response efforts of Hurricane Irma.
All four US&R teams consist of 80 personnel.
COMPARING US&R TO SWIFTWATER
The Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces are highly-specialized search and rescue units that can perform in heavy reinforced masonry structures, handle heavy rigging, specialized search functions and operate in swiftwater/flood environments.
California’s Swiftwater/Flood Rescue teams are each comprised of 14 local fire department-based personnel and a command element with specialized capabilities such as inflatable rescue boat handling, flood search methodology, night search operations, mud and debris flow rescue, and specialized tools for locating and rescuing people trapped by flood waters.
WHAT IS EMAC?
EMAC, which includes the participation of all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, is a nationally recognized mutual-aid system that provides the foundation for states to request and send resources across their borders when impacted by a disaster.