FUNDING FOR THE URBAN SEARCH
AND RESCUE RESPONSE SYSTEM
The National Urban Search
and Rescue (US&R) Response System provides a significant national resource
for search and rescue assistance in the wake of a major disaster or
structural collapse. A typical US&R task force will conduct physical search
and rescue operations, provide emergency medical care to trapped victims,
assess and control hazards such as ruptured gas and electric lines, and
evaluate and stabilize damaged structures.
Due to the critical,
life-saving nature of their mission, US&R task forces must be prepared to
deploy within six hours of notification, and must be self-sufficient for the
first seventy-two hours.
US&R teams have been
deployed in response to the Japanese and Haiti earthquakes, Hurricane Katrina, the 9/11
attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the Oklahoma City bombing, the grain elevator explosion in Wichita, Kansas, and
many other foreign and domestic disasters.
Each of the twenty-eight
US&R task forces consists of two teams of thirty-one or more persons,
including fire fighters, engineers, medical professionals, hazardous
materials specialists and others with special expertise. To ensure a full
team can deploy to an emergency, a typical task force has more than 130
In addition to personnel,
each task force includes four canines and a comprehensive equipment cache to
support its operations. A typical US&R cache includes tools, heavy rescue
equipment, medical supplies, hazardous materials support equipment, canine
support equipment, and communications equipment.
In 2006, the Federal
Emergency Management Agency estimated the annual and recurring cost for each
task force to be approximately $1.7 million. Today, in many jurisdictions
the cost exceeds $2 million. In addition to program management costs, this
estimate includes expenses for training, exercises, medical monitoring of
personnel, and equipment maintenance and storage.
Current federal funding for
the nation’s US&R teams only provides a fraction of the funds necessary to
maintain each task force, leaving local government sponsors to pick up the
remainder of the cost.
Even if legislation
authorizing additional funding for the US&R system is enacted, Congress must
provide additional funding through appropriations to deliver such funds to
local US&R teams.
Tight local budgets due to
the recent recession have left many local government sponsors unable to
subsidize crucial US&R functions such as training, significantly straining
task forces’ readiness and capabilities.
Subsidizing US&R task forces
at the local level also has a negative impact on community preparedness by
diverting funds from local emergency services budgets.
The recent earthquake in
Haiti and the subsequent response underscore the importance of the national
search and rescue capability. Increasing federal funding for the Urban
Search and Rescue Response System will help ensure that highly skilled teams
are available to respond to major emergencies without jeopardizing local