Coming off its busiest year ever, Texas A&M Task Force 1 (TX-TF1) will hold a full-scale Operational Readiness Exercise (ORE) on Feb. 23-24 at Disaster City® in College Station to prepare and train for what could be another active response season. Over 160 members of TX-TF1 and Dallas/Fort Worth-based Texas Task Force 2 search and rescue teams, along with the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team (VET) and others, will face the realistic challenges of responding to a large-scale disaster, the details of which won’t be known to responders until the exercise begins.
Search and rescue training at Disaster City®
With a total of over 200 participants and 24-hour operations over 2 days, this exercise will involve personnel from all search and rescue disciplines, including structural collapse, medical, logistics, canine teams and more. The teams will be searching for ‘victims’ – volunteers from the community – who will be “walking wounded” or hidden inside rubble piles, destroyed buildings, a collapsed house or a derailed passenger train, as well as other full-scale props at the 52-acre Disaster City.
“Our team members train all the time to be able to respond and save lives not only in the communities where we live but across the United States,” said TX-TF1 Director Jeff Saunders. Last year, team members – 750 in all – completed nearly 30,000 hours of training, and it was all voluntary, unpaid time, Saunders added. Training events are scheduled throughout the year, including this annual Operational Readiness Exercise.
Their training was put to the test in 2018, when the teams deployed 18 times, including 12 deployments in September and October, during one of the wettest years ever recorded in Texas. Members were deployed all but five days during the two-month period, and a total of 571 TX-TF1 members were deployed throughout the entire year. September through November was the second wettest autumn on record for the contiguous United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The team went on both state and federal deployments in response to severe weather, flash flooding, wild fires, and Hurricanes to include Michael, Florence and Olivia. In Texas alone, TX-TF1 members deployed in support of 73 Texas counties, after the state experienced two 500-year flooding events.
It is a misconception to think that the team only deploys during hurricane season, Saunders says. “We have responded to events during every month of the year, including tornadoes in December and flooding in April. Eighty percent of our deployments are water-related, and at least a third of our deployments have been outside hurricane season. For this reason, we train year-round so we can respond at a moment’s notice, regardless of the ‘season.’ When we respond, our goal is to do the most good for the most people in the least amount of time.”
Over its 22-year history, TX-TF1 has deployed 160 times, to some of the largest events on record, including the World Trade Center terrorist attack; the Columbia Shuttle explosion; Hurricanes Katrina, Ike, Harvey and Michael; the Moore, OK tornado; Wimberley, TX flooding; the West, TX fertilizer plant explosion; the Bastrop wildfires; the Camp Fire in California; and many more.
“When TX-TF1 shows up, people are having the worst day in their lives, and we are there to help. But this is not a situation any of us want to be in,” Saunders says. He encourages citizens to monitor local weather reports, follow evacuation orders issued by government officials and never drive across flooded roadways. It’s always best to “Turn Around, Don’t Drown,” he cautions.
About Disaster City®
This 52-acre training facility is situated adjacent to the TEEX Brayton Fire Training Field in College Station, Texas, and delivers the full array of skills and techniques needed by today’s emergency response professionals. The mock community features full-scale, collapsible structures designed to simulate various levels of disaster and wreckage which can be customized for the specific training needs of any group. Emergency responders from across the globe venture to Disaster City for search and rescue training and exercises.
About Texas A&M Task Force 1
TX-TF1 is sponsored by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) and has deployed 160 times since 1997. The team can be activated by the Texas Division of Emergency Management or as one of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s 28 sanctioned urban search and rescue teams.