Writer // Janelle Morrison Photography // Submitted
Over the last several weeks, we have heard the local and national media discuss how a myriad of first responder teams, such as US&R (Urban Search and Rescue) Task Forces and Incident Management Teams, deployed in the areas of our nation affected by the recent hurricanes. We spoke with Mark Hart, division chief of training for Zionsville Fire Department, who explained what these teams are and what they do when disaster strikes.
Hart broke the teams down, so we could get a sense of how the Incident Management District 5 (District 5 IMT) and Indiana’s US&R Task Force One (IN-TF1) teams operate and what their core functions are. His fellow IN-TF1 team member, Capt. Mike Pruitt, is also the public information officer for IN-TF1 and was deployed to Florida as a member of the District 5 IMT at the time of the interview, so Hart explained what the District 5 IMT’s purpose is and what they were doing throughout their deployment.
First is an explanation of what an IMT team is and what a US&R Task Force team is. The initiation of the Indiana Incident Management Program is designed to augment and enhance the State of Indiana’s ability to conduct on-scene incident management operations at complex, large-scale and multi-operational period incidents. Through this program, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security (IDHS) supports the development of All Hazard Incident Management Teams within the state.
“There are different IMTs from around the U.S.,” Hart said. “Whenever big tragedies happen, the teams are trained to look at it from a 30,000-ft. view vs. a boots-on-the-ground perspective. These teams are specially trained and used a lot during large incidents, such as wildland fires. These IMTs go into the area and assist the locals. They have specialized training and know how to call for additional resources. The District 5 IMT deployed a team to Florida that Pruitt accompanied them to. District 5 IMT is made up of first responders from around the donut counties of central Indiana. They typically will deploy a team for a period of about two weeks.”
He explained the District 5 IMT will go into a disaster area and assess the needs, evaluate the infrastructure, get power back on and clear roads of debris after they have completed their search and rescue efforts. They assist the locals with putting things back together in order to begin the rebuilding process.
“The District 5 IMT is a state resource,” Hart said. “The team can get called out in one of two ways; the State of Florida could’ve called up and requested their help, or they can also be called up by FEMA. It depends on what they are getting called to do.”
Hart also explained the tier system that designates the “types” of teams that make up the FEMA Incident Management System.
Type 1 IMTs are the largest teams out of the five tiers, are deployed out to very large-scale incidents and have members from all over the country. Type 2 IMTs are also comprised of members from across the nation but are a smaller team. Type 3 IMTs are state level and are designed to assist within their states but can go and assist cities or counties from out of state at a smaller level. Type 4 IMTs are local, multi- agency teams who assist one another at a local level. Lastly, Type 5 IMTs are the local agencies within a town or city.
FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Force is a team of individuals specializing in urban search and rescue, disaster recovery and emergency triage and medicine. The teams are deployed to emergency and disaster sites within six hours of notification. FEMA created the Task Force concept to provide support for large-scale disasters in the United States. FEMA provides financial, technical and training support for the Task Forces as well as creating and verifying the standards of Task Force personnel and equipment.
There are 28 Task Forces in the U.S., each sponsored by a local agency. In the event of a disaster in the U.S., the nearest three Task Forces will be activated and sent to the site of the disaster. If the situation is large enough, additional teams will be activated, like in the case of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
“I am a member of the IN-TF1 team, and we have different divisions within our team,” Hart stated. “The training that goes into the program is completely volunteer and on our own time. Our divisions are made up of the Logistics element that is in charge of our equipment, transportation and ground support when we arrive. We have a medical element made up of doctors, nurses and paramedics. We have a Haz-Mat element that was deployed to Miami shortly after leaving Texas after Hurricane Harvey. The Haz-Mat element assisted with Hurricane Irma and the decontamination of crew and equipment in the flooded areas. We have what’s called the Tech Search element that has devices and cameras that allow them to find people trapped in confined spaces, and we have a K-9 group and a Rescue element that is our largest group in the Task Force.”
Hart was deployed with the IN-TF1 team on September 20, 2017, to Puerto Rico to assist with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. This was not his first rodeo. Hart was deployed to the Galveston area in Texas when Hurricane Ike hit in 2008 and compared that hurricane to Hurricane Harvey.
“I was down there [in Texas] for 21 days when Ike passed through,” he recalled. “The difference between the two is that Harvey intensified at the last minute and then stalled over Texas, pulling moisture from the Gulf and dumping inland. I think that’s what made Harvey so bad compared to past hurricanes. When I deployed to the Galveston/Port Arthur area, we saw the total devastation of structures but not the unprecedented flooding that Harvey produced.”
Hart described the victims that he and his fellow rescuers saved as being grateful but obviously devastated to leave the comfort of their homes.
“It is tough for people to leave their homes and face the unknown,” he said. “They don’t know if or when they will ever come back. That is very difficult for some people, but in my experiences, they are always grateful that we are there to get them out.”
Bringing home a message of preparedness, Hart emphasized that it is important that everyone have safety plans in place, even if you don’t live in a hurricane or earthquake-prone location of the country.
“I think this is a good time to remind people, even here locally, to be prepared for an emergency or bad weather situation,” Hart emphasized. “Have bottled water on hand and canned food because you never know when you will need it. Be prepared ahead of time, and don’t wait until disaster hits. I worked on the Henryville tornado disaster and searched the school that the tornado directly hit. When disasters happen, the first responders have to respond to multiple emergencies and can’t be everywhere all at once. People need to be prepared and familiar with safety measures, such as not touching a downed powerline because it may or may not be live, and wait for us to respond. They need to know that we will get there, but we have to prioritize and address the hardest hit areas first.”
He also encouraged families to discuss emergency plans with their children. “It’s important that kids know where to go if there is a tornado or a fire,” Hart concluded. “People can’t think that it will never happen to them. They need to be prepared and have a plan.”
For detailed supply lists or more information about safety and preparedness, visit the Indiana Department of Homeland Security’s website at in.gov/dhs/3910.htm.