Disasters can be defined as events that cause serious disruptions in the services that are essential for the normal operation of a community and frequently result in widespread human and environmental losses. Such disruptions exceed the emergency management capabilities of the affected community.
The catastrophic earthquakes that hit northern and southern California in 1989 and 1994, and Kobe, Japan in 1995 demonstrated the need for specially trained Heavy Urban Search and Rescue (HUSAR, US&R in the United States) resources to respond to incidents of structural collapse caused by earthquakes and other major hazards. Since then, this capability has been looked locally by some of the former municipalities but to no major extent. Since amalgamation, it has been possible to consolidate all previous efforts in this area, and with the resources now available to us as a municipality, a new venture has been initiated.
What is Heavy Urban Search and Rescue? (HUSAR)
HUSAR is defined by Emergency Preparedness Canada as "The location of trapped persons in collapsed structures using dogs and sophisticated search equipment; the use of heavy equipment such as cranes to remove debris; the work to breach, shore, remove and lift structural components; the treatment and removal of victims; and the securing of partially or completely collapsed structures."
HUSAR is considered a multi-hazard discipline. A HUSAR capable response may be needed for a wide variety of emergencies or disasters, including but not limited to earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons, storms and tornadoes, flood dam failures, technological accidents, terrorist activities, and hazardous material releases.
The Toronto HUSAR Project will act as a framework for structuring existing emergency service personnel, particularly Works and Emergency Services members, and other city employees from the local level into an integrated response unit. This community based HUSAR unit takes advantage of the pre-existing organizations that support them. The emergency service personnel who perform this work on a daily basis will be further trained in many related fields of rescue - giving them the ability to function as a unique and independent unit if necessary.
The HUSAR Unit is treated as a resource/compliment to the requesting agency. This organization is another tool that is available as a whole or in part to assist the requesting agency or organization that requires the expertise the unit possesses.
Toronto HUSAR will join two other cities: Calgary and Vancouver, who currently have this type organization. The capabilities of Toronto HUSAR will include, but are not limited to the following:
- Physical search and rescue operations in damaged/collapsed structures
- Emergency medical care to the disaster response personnel
- Emergency medical care to the injured
- Reconnaissance to assess the damages and needs and provide feedback to local, provincial, and federal officials
- Assessment of utilities to houses and buildings
- Hazardous material surveys/evaluations
- Structural/hazard evaluations of government/municipal buildings needed for immediate occupancy to support disaster relief operations
- Stabilization of damaged structures, including shoring, cribbing operations on damaged buildings
- Water/ice rescue operations
- Initial Response Team (IRT). This is a component or components of the HUSAR unit that can provide tactical and technical advice and or support upon request to other local, provincial, federal, or international governments. The IRT was developed to provide a group of highly qualified specialists readily available for rapid deployment to the scene of an emergency.