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L.A. search-rescue team demonstrates response

January 13, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Both Los Angeles city and county have urban search and rescue Teams. A county team has already mobilized, preparing to fly to Haiti.Late Wednesday afternoon the city team demonstrated some of the rescue skills needed in Haiti.

L.A. City Fire Department's Station 88 urban search-and-rescue (USAR) team practices for catastrophic natural disasters like the earthquake in Haiti.

Earthquakes in urban environments mean collapsed buildings, landslides, rubble and trapped, panicked people. Los Angeles is well-equipped to handle these emergencies with six local response teams. They train constantly to be ready when the ground starts shaking here or wherever they are called.

"But you don't want to waste all of that precious time in one area where there isn't anybody," said USAR team member Hollyn Bullock.

Bullock operates sensitive sound-detection equipment with a team member who scans video images from a camera fixed to a long pole. They're first on a rubble pile, watching and listening.

"You would be able to hear someone tapping," said Bullock. "We also have audio that you could hear them crying out, but more so someone tapping because they are buried so deep."

Rescuers can't dig everywhere, so it's important to pinpoint victim locations before the rest of the team goes to work with their heavy equipment. The priorities, in order, are surface rescue, then void spaces between sections of collapsed buildings, then deep debris removal and rescue.

"We try to do the best for the most," said L.A. City Fire Dept. Battalion Chief Jack Wise. "We have to make those rescues on those areas that we can get to quickly."

In addition to its six local teams, L.A. City fields a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) USAR team called California Task Force One. In the past, it has responded to the 9/11 disaster in New York, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, as well as earthquakes right here at home.

These rescuers will be watching and cheering their brethren from the county fire department who are going to Haiti. They know it is going to be a tough job. It will be very difficult searching through the rubble of that horrible earthquake there, but they know that the county rescuers, like them, are well-trained to do the job.