USAR Task Force Logistics

USAR Task Force Logistics


Prior to the Oklahoma City incident, logistics as it relates to the response of Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Task Forces had received a great deal of attention specific to each individual task force. Task force logisticians had spent a great deal of time on load planning and equipment packaging for air transportation and hazardous-materials certification for military transport.

Until last year, the Department of Defense (DOD) was responsible for resupplying USAR task forces after the first 72 hours of deployment. Last year, the task force resupply and maintenance system became a FEMA responsibility. Prior to April 19, little had been done to develop an appropriate resupply system at the task force level.

Task force equipment caches, personnel needs, food, water, fuel, and shelter were designed to provide all of the components necessary to sustain the task forces for the first 72 hours. This design ensured that a task force entering a devastated community would not place a burden on the already taxed local infrastructure. In addition, it ensured that a task force would be able to operate from the moment it hit the ground.

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We arrived in Oklahoma City at approximately 11 p.m. on April 19 and proceeded to a GSA facility to pick up several vehicles. It`s interesting to note that immediately after the disaster occurred, every available rental car was committed to resources, responders, and media coming into the city, making it impossible for us to rent any vehicles locally.

We arrived at the site at approximately 12:30 and connected with local fire/rescue personnel. After we had been briefed by Oklahoma City Fire Department (OCFD) personnel, the five members of the IST sat down in the loading dock area of the Murrah Building and established our immediate objectives. We already had realized that we lacked adequate resources to properly assist Oklahoma City with the incident both from IST and task force perspectives.

Certainly, leaving home several hours after the blast occurred, we had little understanding of the magnitude of the event. As an example, I fully expected to be home within several days at the most, as evidenced by my packing three pairs of underwear and a greatly reduced “go” bag. Whoops! Lesson learned!

That first night, as we assigned responsibilities, I agreed to take on logistics. My background is as a task force leader and not as a logistician, although I had a good understanding of task force requirements and, as a rescue person, had acquired over the years a knowledge of the tools of the trade and the vendors. That first night, I wasn`t really sure how the system was going to work since I didn`t have any guidance on how to actually make a purchase–How soon can we get the item? Where does the money come from? Can we buy from any vendor? How do we document what we`re doing?

As the first night became the second day, additional personnel began to arrive to support the IST operations. An additional logistician arrived from San Diego, and together we quickly discussed our priorities as we envisioned them and established a plan.

Realizing that we were limited in what we could accomplish with two personnel, our number-one priority was to stay ahead of the task force needs and to anticipate what those needs would be in the environment in which we were working. The fact that logistics was responsible for all transportation, communications, personnel housing and feeding, as well as resupply put us in a position that necessitated our acknowledging that we would not immediately meet all the objectives in each of these areas.


To stay ahead of the task force, we needed immediate contact with the normal USAR vendors as well as a number of vendors specific to this event. It was also immediately apparent that the vendors could not report to the “hot” zone, so we would need to establish an area outside the hot zone with adequate space to allow storage of supplies, maintenance areas, and close proximity to the responding task force.

As we considered these issues, we were notified that additional task forces were en route and that the Myriad Convention Center had been secured to provide housing for the incoming task forces. The convention center became the base of operations (BOO) for the task forces, except for the two initially deployed task forces, based in the Southwestern Bell Building, a block from the Murrah Building.

We established that there would be plenty of room to secure a logistics area within the Myriad and that vendors would be able to receive deliveries because the area was not fully restricted. We notified vendors that we required their 24-hour-a-day presence and knowledgeable personnel and supplies to meet the task force needs in the most harsh rescue environment they could envision. Major USAR vendors rose to the occasion and met our needs in an incredible manner.

Once additional logistics personnel arrived, we established full-time staffing at the Myriad Center. This allowed the individual task force logisticians to have direct contact with our logisticians as well as the primary vendors, which helped facilitate our objective to rapidly meet the task forces` needs. The task forces could place orders to meet their logistical needs face to face with the logisticians, who in turn would rapidly complete the order and the purchase.

What we lacked, initially, was a mechanism for actually making each purchase–again, Where does the money come from? Do we just tell the vendors, “Trust us; you`ll get a check from the government”? Will they believe us?

On the second day, we received an additional person to help us solve this issue. The Mobile Emergency Response System (MERS) from Denton, Texas, provided us with a federal logistician who was a wizard in making the financial end of the system work. He also taught us the proper system for documenting and justifying purchases. The relationship worked well; the MERS logistician worked the financial end of purchasing while we worked the USAR-specific end of purchasing. Later, as our staffing increased, we added additional MERS personnel at the BOO to refine the system even further.


In many ways, we can consider this a “luxury” USAR response. The BOO setup was outstanding from a logistical standpoint. It allowed the task forces to be located with logistics; it provided a large area for feeding task force personnel as well as separate sleeping areas for each task force.

The community support during this catastrophic event was incredible, and it was very much focused on the BOO. While this event deeply affected every member of the community, it did not have the major impact on the existing infrastructure that a large-scale disaster would. Outside of the blocks surrounding the Murrah Building, the roads were open; the electricity, water, sewer, and other utilities were in place; and the community did not have to worry about its own food and shelter. Consequently, the community was in a position to respond and had a personal need to assist in the rescue efforts as a part of their personal coping/healing mechanism.

While they did not have access to the hot zone, they had access to the Myriad Center. The community outpouring was incredible! The people provided for our every need and greatly reduced our logistical issues. We had home-cooked food provided by the Oklahoma Restaurant Association and other groups. Members of the community took our laundry home with them and returned it clean. They installed whirlpool baths in the convention center and provided professional massage therapy as needed. Eye care, including contact lenses and the repair of eyeglasses, was available. Podiatrists worked on tired rescuers` feet to ensure rescuers would be prepared to go back to work the next operational period. The community set up a “Wal-Mart” where fresh clothing and other personal needs were met (this is how I solved my underwear problem).

These “luxuries,” however, did not dilute the harshness of the environment in which all rescuers worked 12 hours a day.


The weather was an issue throughout the incident. Temperatures varied from the low 40s to the high 80s. The direction and strength of the wind were always issues. The wind was strong enough to have an impact on our handling of hanging debris on the site. Rain and thunderstorms were threats; high winds and lightning caused operations to be stopped several times.

In addition to the weather, the site itself had an impact on our work environment. The debris from the blast created a mesh of electrical wire, HVAC conduit, hot and cold water and sprinkler piping, telephone and other communications wiring, rebar from the concrete structure, furniture and pieces of furniture, carpet, concrete pieces, and anything else you might find in a structure. This mesh of material created a unique work environment that was not only harsh on the rescuers but extremely harsh on their protective clothing.

We established that personnel working in the interior of the structure would go through a pair of steel-toed and steel-shanked boots in two to three operational periods! This was a result not only of the materials in the structure but also of the wet environment that invited concerns regarding fluid contamination when working around victims and whatever other substances may have been released in the structure.

Obviously, if rescuers are not comfortable and confident in their protective gear, their ability to sustain work could be diminished. From a logistics perspective, the type of wear we experienced on the boots had not been anticipated. We quickly established an ad hoc general boot specification and worked with the military to find a supplier of a lightweight, steel-toed, steel-shanked, fabric (waterproof) leather boot. The manufacturer, located in Pennsylvania, immediately shipped a tractor-trailer load of the boots overnight!

Other protective clothing was equally as adversely affected by the work environment. Wet clothing had an impact on the rescuers` ability to work. Fluid contamination was also an issue, although, later in the incident, a decon process was established for personnel handling victims. Clothing frequently was torn in the debris.

Once again, logistics personnel worked with the military to establish a mechanism for immediately providing replacement clothing. Large quantities of uniforms and boot socks were procured through Tinker Air Force Base (Oklahoma City). These uniforms were provided to the rescuers as their gear became damaged or wet.

Large numbers of leather work gloves and gloves for victim handling were purchased. It was established that personnel working in the harshest areas of the structure would go through three sets of leather work gloves per operational period. Good-quality knee and elbow pads were necessities for anyone working inside the structure.

Rain gear was shredded each time it was worn in the work environment; therefore, it also was purchased in bulk. A local eye-care company provided eye protection anti-fog in a lipstick-type tube, which worked very well.

We also learned that personnel spent a great part of their day bending over or kneeling down. In addition, the more gear rescuers had on, the more they all looked alike. For better rescuer identification, the idea evolved to have the rescuer`s last name affixed to the clothing`s “butt” area and across the top of the helmet. We used a commercial label-making system, and it worked extremely well. The labeling was also used to mark issues and identify personnel`s clothing, areas, hazards, and equipment.

A lesson learned was that better attention should be paid to the impact of the environment on long-term rescue operations. We are used to working in harsh environments for relatively short periods of time. Eight consecutive 12-hour shifts had a significant impact on all aspects of our operations, specifically our protective gear.

We unscientifically tested recently developed protective gear designed specifically for rescue work. It provides the protection of PBI® with Kevlar® and is waterproof and able to protect against bloodborne pathogens. Rescuers who work in the harsh urban search and rescue environment should evaluate this type of protective gear to lessen the impact of the environment on rescuers` ability to function.


As you can imagine, breaching, breaking, cutting, lifting, and rigging–as well as moving all types of materials–were the major operations needed to gain access and to disentangle the victims. The task forces used every tool in their FEMA USAR equipment caches. In addition, vendors approached us with a number of new tools or other tools they thought might be useful in our efforts to conquer the large volume of debris.

Rigging. Rope and rigging gear were used a great deal, most typically to make the environment safer. Personnel in harnesses rigged systems to secure all types of materials from building components to precariously perched loaded file cabinets. They devised systems to remove or secure the hazards. In some cases, this included working suspended on a rope with a gasoline-powered drill to drill through a concrete slab to allow the placement of nylon slings or cable to secure it or placing a “diaper” under a slab so that debris would not fall on rescue operations 100 feet below.

The environment was as harsh on the rigging equipment as it was on the personal gear. Sharp edges, concrete dust, fluids, and glass all affected rigging gear, as did unknown stresses placed on the gear by material movement and other factors. In many cases, the gear was left in place and marked with red fluorescent paint for destruction after use. Retrieved rope was cut into small pieces and discarded.

We weren`t using only traditional rope-rigging gear. Two heavy-rigging specialists, members of the USAR Task Force, were used in a number of ways throughout this incident. Local crane personnel worked in front of the building with very large cranes while task force specialists worked in the structure using the mechanical advantage of Bobcats® in confined-work areas. They used rated chain, nylon slings, chain-coffing hoists (come-a-longs), and the knowledge and finesse necessitated by knowing that under building components could and did lie victims.

Light material cutting. We had to cut everything from carpet to sheet steel. Miles and miles of wire created a spider web throughout the structure. Rebar created an environment similar to a prison. Filing cabinets had to be cut to get through to victims. Wood was cut to build a “forest” of shoring to support the structure.

Over the years, the rescue community has placed greater and greater reliance on “power” tools and has lessened the “good ole days” emphasis (by necessity) on hand tools. For a number of reasons, this incident reintroduced the importance of hand-tool operations. Everywhere you walked, something needed to be cut. “Heavy hydraulics”–or a more manageable reciprocating saw–were not always at hand; even if they were, they would require a great deal of effort to operate in the structure.

As an example of our constant adaptation to the environment, personnel from the Menlo Park (CA) Task Force put together a simple hand tool pouch designed to deal with the spider-web environment. The pouch included a lineman`s pliers, a 10-inch crescent wrench, a torch striker, a four-in-one screwdriver, channel locks, and aviation snips. Personnel added a razor knife and trauma shears. This small kit didn`t weigh down or confine rescuers but provided the tools they needed to deal with most of the light debris they encountered.

The task force used every cutting method available. The incident provided an incredible opportunity to perform on-the-job tool evaluation and test tools` effectiveness in this harsh environment. In many cases, a tool was not used for just one or two operations but received a lifetime`s worth of exercise in a week`s time. While this was far from a scientific evaluation, those tools that held up and were effective continued to be used while tools that didn`t were tossed aside.

The traditional cutoff saw with an aluminum oxide blade was the best all-around tool for cutting rebar and for other metal-cutting operations, such as those involving the mass of ever-present sprinkler pipe.

A Los Angeles County (CA) Task Force member recommended a set of electric rebar cutters. These units worked extremely well for cutting rebar up to one inch in diameter, although they were heavy for over-the-head use and all-day operations. New York City (NY) Task Force personnel recommended ratcheting cable cutters, which also worked well when dealing specifically with the miles of ever-present cable.

The FEMA equipment cache list includes handheld hydraulic rebar cutters. Personnel were using these units and experiencing a high blade failure rate. We contacted the manufacturer. After some research, it was determined that the problem units had been equipped with after-market blades. Overnight shipments of replacement blades solved the majority of these problems, although we continued to have some problems with heat dissipation, which caused metal to shatter. This difficulty was established as a problem related to repeated back-to-back use of the cutter without allowing the blade to cool over a long period of time.

Another useful metal-cutting tool was the traditional reciprocating saw. This worked extremely well on conduit and sprinkler pipe. Additionally, the gasoline-powered reciprocating saw worked extremely well.

Probably the best all-around cutting tool on sprinkler pipe was the traditional oxyacetylene torch. These large construction-size units worked better than backpack or other small units due to the volume of material to be cut.

It should be noted that all of the cutting tools used had inherent safety concerns related to their use in this or any rescue incident. Caution must be observed when using cutting tools. Users must be properly trained in a given tool`s use and limitations. They also must be aware of safety concerns–including proper protection for the eyes, arm, and body–and environmental protection factors such as fire protection and atmospheric monitoring.

Breaching Concrete

A reinforced concrete structure is considered the most difficult victim entombment scenario. The USAR program was designed around this worst-case scenario, to ensure that we are prepared (training and equipment) to deal with any situation.

The hydraulic gas-powered pump uses a four-cycle motor to power an eight-gpm hydraulic pump to power a variety of rescue tools. Task forces found a 45-pound hydraulic breaker extremely effective for breaking or breaching concrete. The system includes several diamond segmented tools for cutting concrete, including a chain saw and a cutoff saw. These tools have proven to be extremely effective in training, especially when working close to a victim.

Also used were pneumatic jackhammers with a construction-type air compressor. Unsure footing and uncertainty as to what was underneath the floor made the traditional 90-pound jackhammer difficult to handle in the structure. The 45-pound tool worked better since rescuers had more control and could “chip” into void spaces with some control.

A chipping hammer in the equipment cache was set up to be used with regulated SCBA bottles on the rescuer`s back. It did not work well because the bottles provided only a 10- to 12-minute air supply. The tool itself worked well, especially considering its light weight and ease of handling in tight spaces; but an unlimited air supply was needed.

Another new and extremely effective tool for dealing with concrete was a gasoline-powered chain saw modified to drill through concrete. This unit is very easily operated without “kick” and very rapidly drills through concrete and whatever rebar it may strike. Personnel in harnesses eight stories up used it to drill holes to secure slabs in place on the side of the structure. With a two- to four-inch (or smaller) bit range, it can effectively be used to establish an opening for a victim-locating device to assist in the search effort.


A great deal of shoring was required to ensure that the structure remained safe for rescue operations. The situation was constantly changing as building components and rubble were moved. Areas in need of shoring were identified in a number of ways, including recommendations by structural engineers and rescue squad personnel. Shoring systems were generally designed by the structural engineers and implemented by task force rescue personnel or the local construction company. We were fortunate to have on-site John O`Connell, of the City of New York (NY) Fire Department, who was assigned as the shoring monitor throughout the incident. He, in concert with the structural engineers, helped all on-site personnel feel more comfortable with the site`s stability.

Task force personnel used a great deal of wood to construct shoring. Pneumatic air nailers worked extremely well for shoring operations; 12 and 16 penny nails were used. In fact, these systems were used for the manual carpentry projects assembled, including debris chutes and protective structures.

Other types of shoring materials used were box cribbing, ellis clamps, pipe shores, and screw jacks.

Structural Engineers

The structural engineers used a number of devices to help ensure the structures were safe for occupancy. Readily available Smart Levels® (with the five-minute shutoff feature overridden) were duct-taped to the building and viewed periodically to show movement in a given area. Theodolites (electronic transits) allowed documentation of movement from a number of sites with a single unit, and they did not have to be placed in the structure. Strain gauges or calibrated crack monitors were bolted or epoxied over a suspect crack or around a corner to document movement in a given area very effectively.

Another tool that proved extremely effective was a common laser pointer normally used in the classroom. This tool originally was purchased for the structural engineers, but it was quickly recognized that a great deal of “telling” could be accomplished with a laser pointer. Management at every level used it to “describe” an area that needed shoring or other action. Instead of saying, “Do you see the third piece of rebar on the fifth slab? I need you to shore from the underside to the top, etc.,” a laser beacon was placed exactly where the work was to be done, and the “dot” spoke a thousand words. We`ll be using this tool in rescue training and other activities in the future.

A probe was used to detect energized electrical equipment early in the operation–until it became well-established that the utilities were shut off.


The public provided dog boots because there had been reports that search dogs` paws were being cut in the rubble. This was true, but dogs need their pads and claws to maintain their footing in rubble. We ended up providing a great deal of “super glue” to repair the canine pads so they could go back to work. Also, canine decontamination was an issue addressed early on. It was a little shaky having canines that had not been deconned in the sleeping and eating areas.

A video search camera and fiber-optic system were used a great deal. They generally worked well, but the dusty environment made everything look the same. It was generally agreed that a color view find would help identify exactly what the search personnel were viewing.

The USAR Task Force equipment cache includes more than 48,000 pounds of equipment, which is transported to the catastrophic incident site. This equipment fills seven military pallets, which are 108 inches 3 96 inches 3 96 inches tall. Additionally, during the Murrah Building incident, a number of new tools were field-tested and probably will be considered by the FEMA Logistics Committee for future task force use.

One of the most important concepts in developing a good rescue team is to keep an open mind and constantly evaluate whether a tool that is in your toolbox (or could be there) would do the job better than your current approach. With 11 USAR Task Forces and the OFCD operating together during this operation, we were able to put many tools to the test.

In addition to the two logisticians inherent to each of the deployed task forces, we used more than 20 logisticians from across the country to support the logistics mission. Logistics personnel in Sacramento and Maryland accomplished research objectives off-site while personnel on-site from California, Indiana, Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Florida, Maryland, and FEMA MERS from across the country met the 24-hour operational requirements. These personnel worked to form a team that anticipated and met the task force needs in an incredible manner.

FEMA`s support of the USAR program and its willingness to listen and respond to the “grassroots” rescue efforts have allowed the USAR program to develop into the most comprehensive rescue program anywhere. n

This simple hand tool pouch included lineman`s pliers, a 10-inch crescent wrench, a torch striker, a 4-in-1 screwdriver, channel locks, and aviation snips. Personnel since have added a razor knife and trauma shears.

Many cutting tools were used during the search and rescue operations, including rebar cutters (top left and right) and the gasoline-powered reciprocating saw (bottom left). (Photos by author.)

Other tools included jackhammers, drills, and air nailers.

An extremely effective tool was this gasoline-powered chain saw modified to drill through concrete.

TOM CARR is a lieutenant station commander with the Montgomery County (MD) Department of Fire and Rescue Services. He has been involved with emergency services in many capacities for 22 years. He is the leader of the Montgomery County Collapse Rescue Team and a USAR task force leader for the Montgomery County Task Force. Carr has been actively involved with FEMA USAR program development since its inception.

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