The classification of international USAR teams according to their operational capabilities is necessary to ensure that only qualified and appropriate USAR resources are deployed on an emergency.
Over the past decade disasters around the world, affecting urban areas of high density populations living and working in concrete and reinforced concrete single and multi story dwellings, has increased the need for sophisticated USAR capabilities. Advances in technology have improved the ability to locate, rescue, and provide medical treatment to trapped victims. Many countries have developed a USAR capability and, when required, send teams of well-trained USAR experts to assist countries affected by disasters causing large-scale structural collapse.
While deployment of international USAR teams has been of great benefit to trapped victims and the affected country, lessons learned have revealed the need for responding USAR teams to be integrated within a well coordinated system to ensure the most appropriate use of available USAR resources. There is a need to classify international USAR teams according to their operational capabilities in order to ensure that only qualified and appropriate USAR resources are deployed to an emergency.
All USAR teams, irrespective of their capacity classification and operational involvement, should comprise of the following components:
Figure 1 illustrates that the majority of people affected by a disaster causing structural collapse will be rescued by the community. This is done in the immediate aftermath of the disaster and requires very little equipment. However, when victims are trapped in structures, particularly heavily reinforced concrete structures, highly specialised skills and equipment are required to locate, gain access and rescue victims.
The chance of a trapped victim surviving decreases rapidly with time and it is therefore of utmost importance that the appropriate resources are assigned to the appropriate sites as soon as possible. The INSARAG external classification (IEC) system is designed to ensure that assisting countries send a team with the required skills and equipment. It also plays a major role in ensuring that the appropriate resources are assigned to the appropriate sites as soon as possible.
The USAR team classification system ensures that USAR teams have a common understanding with regard to the different classification capabilities. Teams are able to integrate effectively as they will have the same basic structure, comprise of the same components and will have standardised qualifications for the primary aspects of a USAR team response. This results in a safe, effective multinational operational response.
The INSARAG USAR team classification system has identified three levels of classification. These are Light, Medium and Heavy USAR teams.
1. Light USAR Teams have the operational capability to assist with surface search and rescue in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. Light USAR teams usually come from the affected country and neighbouring countries. It is normally not recommended that Light USAR teams deploy internationally to emergencies.
2. Medium USAR Teams have the operational capability for technical search and rescue operations in structural collapse incidents. Medium USAR teams are required to be able to search for entrapped persons.
International Medium USAR teams travelling to an affected country should be operational in the affected country within 32 hours of the posting of the disaster on the VO. A medium team must be adequately staffed to allow for 24 hour operations at 1 site for up to 7 days.
3. Heavy USAR Teams have the operational capability for difficult and complex technical search and rescue operations. Heavy USAR teams are required to be able to search for entrapped persons use both canine and technical systems, and are envisaged for international assistance in disasters resulting in the collapse of multiple structures, typically found in urban settings, when national response capacity has either been overwhelmed or does not possess the required capability. International Heavy USAR teams travelling to an affected country should be operational in the affected country within 48 hours of the posting of the disaster on the VO. A heavy team must be adequately staffed to allow for 24 hour operations at 2 separate sites for up to 10 days.
Only USAR teams that meet the requirements of the USAR team classification system will be registered in the INSARAG USAR Directory. Details of the requirements that teams need to achieve in order to be classified are listed in the INSARAG Classification Guide for Minimum Acceptable Capacities.