This post began as a comment over at Miguel’s place and quickly grew large enough to be a post on its own.

Many people see FEMA as some sort of large Federal organization that responds to emergencies. They aren’t. What FEMA is, is a guy with a Rolodex (Remember those? If you don’t, ask your parents, snowflake.) and a checkbook. There isn’t some magical team of Federal Employees sitting around, waiting for “the big one” so they can swoop in and save everyone. That isn’t how it works.

No, this FEMA guy’s phonebook is filled with the contact information of local and state resources that can be called in an emergency. Those resources respond, tracking expenses and man hours used, and the FEMA guy then breaks out the checkbook to reimburse the states involved. The Governor doesn’t call out FEMA for shit. If you want to get technical, FEMA can’t do a thing unless the President tells them to. (Didn’t Trump catch hell for that recently?) FEMA’s largest contribution is writing the check to pay for it all.

After 9/11, the US government came up with the concept of Urban Search and Rescue Teams. They follow a set of guidelines in equipment and training, so that all of them nationwide operate on a similar set of procedures. This makes them interoperable across state lines: a person qualified for one could easily fit into any of the others. A USAR is equipped with everything from power generators to food trailers and rescue equipment. They have medical supplies, fuel, and all other equipment needed to fulfill their mission. Each USAR maintains over 5,000 pieces of equipment and has 140 or so assigned personnel. They can operate independently for 2 weeks, longer with resupply of fuel, food, and other consumables.

While there are some variations in the mission for each team (a team in Florida doesn’t need to be equipped for blizzards, for example) the teams are remarkably similar in training and equipment.

Florida doesn’t need FEMA resources for a building collapse. The state has eight Urban Search and Rescue Teams, all of whom are trained and equipped for that. Each one is centered on a large city, and draws its personnel from surrounding first responders. These first responders volunteer for the team, are sent to special training, and then become qualified for the team. Specialists are trained in HAZMAT, trench rescue, building collapse, confined space, water rescue, dive rescue, high angle, and vehicle and machinery rescue. Every member is certified as an EMT or Paramedic. It takes 2 to 3 years of training to fully qualify for a USAR team, on top of the extra training that they do on a constant basis. Most USAR members are the best of what their employing agencies have to offer. They are the most motivated and able of emergency responders.

Miami Dade is home to Florida’s TF1 (task force 1)
Miami has TF 2.
Tampa has TF 3.
Orlando is the center for TF 4.
Jacksonville has TF 5.
Fort Meyers has TF 6.
Tallahassee has TF 7, and
TF 8 is from Ocala and Gainesville.

Those eight task forces are comprised of about 2,000 of the state’s emergency services personnel. Before I retired, I deployed more than a couple of times with one of those teams. The most notable was to Mississippi for Hurricane Katrina.

Elements from six different USAR teams are in Surfside right now, along with a team from Mexico and another from Israel. They have more people and equipment than they can use right now- last I heard there were over 500 USAR team members there.

The issue is that a building collapse isn’t the type of disaster that is solved by throwing people at it. Even though miracles can happen and the occasional survivor is found days later, a building collapse is likely fatal for nearly everyone. Most of the survivors are found nearly immediately, survivors days later are miracles no matter how many rescuers are present.

The people in that building, with a few exceptions, were dead as soon as that building began to fall. No amount of handwringing is or could have changed that.

To be honest, I loved deployments. Not because deployments meant people were suffering. No, mostly it was because they were a test of all that you had learned. That, and a FEMA deployment usually pays pretty well. I was deployed to Katrina for 12 days and was paid more than $5,000. You want people who bring years of expertise and thousands of hours of training to come save you? You want people willing to live on 3 hours’ sleep a night without bathing while shitting in a bucket and eating old MRE’s for two weeks? It’s gonna cost ya. That kind of expertise and dedication isn’t cheap.

Categories: GovernmentMe


Eric Wilner · June 29, 2021 at 7:24 am

$5000 for 12 long days of hard work by a highly-trained worker sounds awfully cheap to me.

    Exile1981 · June 29, 2021 at 10:04 am

    That is cheap, these days a plumber or an electrician will charge you a $1000 a day for an 8hr day.

Old NFO · June 29, 2021 at 10:58 am

Thanks for giving your perspective. I did a similar post, but my training was years ago. I went more into the background IC issues.

    Divemedic · June 29, 2021 at 12:24 pm

    I retired a decade ago. The probies I trained during my last year are officers now.

Jess · June 29, 2021 at 2:19 pm

After years of construction, which included demolishing structures, watching the video of the collapse made me think of the enormous weight of materials falling in less than two seconds. Even a small vase falling from that height will cause tremendous damage after a fall of 120 feet. Tons fell, and everything underneath was crushed.

Big Country Expat · June 29, 2021 at 11:36 pm

There ain’t even going to be anything left to bury. Studies after 9/11 showed that people pretty much disintegrate into thing ground beef and dust (the bones) IF there is anything left -at all-. Essentially it happens in microseconds, but just imagine a small piece of beef and bone placed between oh, say 80 grit sandpaper, then place that sandpaper sandwiched between extreme weights and pressures, and then grind on the beef/bone…

Not much left after Aye… just a shmear of pink maybe, and a few flakes of bone…

That 150+? they’re gone, done, toast. Joined the choir invisible. Hate to be harsh about it, but also the rule of ‘3’s is in play… 3 minutes, no air, 3 days, no water, 3 weeks, no food… Add on -something- is burning in the cellar, and that’s game over. It’ll literally be a Hallmark Made for TV Movie Miracle if they find anyone alive after today…

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