California State University, Long Beach
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Urban Search and Rescue Program Here to Help, Looking for Volunteers

Search and rescue following a disaster. Sounds like a fairly simple, straight-forward process, but in actuality there is a lot of preparation that goes into doing it safely and effectively. That’s where CSULB’s Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) training comes in.

The USAR training series is an intensive and comprehensive program consisting of classroom lectures and hands-on field exercises which provide volunteers needed skills. There is no doubt that USAR team members will play a vital role in the campus’ response to a disaster by actively participating in saving the lives of all those impacted.

“Disaster after disaster we have seen that resources, particularly professional responders, are always at a premium in time of need,” said Sgt. Scott Brown of University Police, who also serves as the campus’ Emergency Services Coordinator. “Whether it’s running sheltering operations, assisting with search and rescue, coordinating feeding operations, or helping in recovery centers, their work is beyond value to the community. The campus has several volunteer response groups — search and rescue, building marshals, medical, crisis intervention, and hazmat who step up in time of need. As a professional responder I cannot begin to thank these individuals enough. They step forward constantly to make our jobs as professional responders easier. More importantly in time of need, they step up to help make all our lives a little easier.”

“The intent of the program is to give volunteers a higher level of skills and basic skills for emergency preparedness, search and rescue, light firefighting and disaster medicine, things you can take back with you and use, not only here on campus, but in your home,” said George Alfaro, CSULB’s Environmental Compliance Manager. “Our hope is that, if you are on campus, it will help you survive and then you can begin to assist with other employees.”

The program recently had its first graduating class of seven — Michael Markoski, information technology services; Duane Watkins and Mark Farrell, facilities management; Derrick Che and Brian Dunaway, parking and transportation services; John Jost, University Student Union; and Leah Walden, enrollment services — and is looking to get additional individuals involved simply to give the program more people who can properly respond in case of an emergency.

“I’ve always been interested in this kind of thing and like to be involved to help,” said Jost, a former reserve deputy sheriff in Orange County who is currently a campus building marshal and serves on the volunteer campus resource team. “This really allows you to understand what’s going on in the disaster and understanding the structure and the hierarchy of who’s doing what in the disaster as well as what your roll is and what you can do. Being involved in something like this gives you a little more peace of mind and gets you a little more personally prepared.”

CSULB officials have been told by the city of Long Beach that the campus could be on its own for up to 72 hours if there is a significant event, meaning the university must be able to sustain itself and take care of students, faculty and staff.

“Knowing we wouldn’t get any outside help, we decided that a USAR group would be the best way to help emergency victims after a disaster so we are not just waiting for the city,” said Alfaro. “When you have a campus of this size, you could easily be looking at a building with 500 people inside, depending on the time of day; we need to know how to get them out and also determine who needs immediate help and who can wait for assistance. A building search can take from one to four hours, so volunteers could be here for some time.”

Image of Participants in Search and Rescue Exercise

Participating in the most recent Urban Search and Rescue exercise on campus were (l-r) George Alfaro, John Jost, Gary Pons and Leah Walden.

The program focuses on light search and rescue, so volunteers won’t be asked to enter buildings if they are not structurally sound. Team members will inspect the building utilities and make sure there is not a potentially dangerous situation for the response team. If the utilities require being shut off, they will have been trained to do so. The program also provides training on how to properly handle buildings that contain hazardous materials.

“These are just some of the scenarios that we train on and allow our USAR team members to safely and effectively respond to an incident,” said Alfaro. “Our first goal is to prepare volunteers to survive because if they don’t then, obviously, they can’t help others. If there is a disaster and the emergency operations center is activated, we would report there and perform our role in the response action. It may be a building search, light fire suppression, or it may be a rescue and extraction of some victims, so obviously we have to be prepared for a number of things.”

For volunteers, Alfaro said the USAR program is set up to provide a comprehensive training curriculum for its members without greatly impacting individuals’ responsibilities within their respective departments. The initial training curriculum requires volunteers to attend six, two-hour training modules, one per month, that consist of classroom lectures and field training exercises. The final hurdle is a comprehensive field examination where the candidates must respond to a simulated incident.

“We ask our team members to perform tasks that require a minimum level of fitness. It is the nature of this type of emergency response and each individual must be comfortable with it,” said Gary Pons, Assistant Director for Safety and Risk Management.

If you have any questions about or you would like to be involved with the CSULB USAR Team, please contact Alfaro at 562/985-2378.  The next scheduled informational meeting for the USAR Team is on Friday, June 6 at 11 a.m. in the Facilities Management Training Room, Building 57, Room 103.