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Premier National Search & Rescue Canine Teams test at Disaster City, TX

Date: 2017-10-20
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Fifteen Canine Search & Rescue teams from across the United States will be in College Station at the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) Disaster City® facility this weekend (October 21-22) to find out if they have what it takes to be a FEMA-certified canine team. Dogs and their handlers will be arriving in College Station from Florida, Virginia, California, Ohio, Missouri, Washington, Colorado, and Massachusetts. 

Canine teams in the FEMA system are required to recertify at least every three years. For some dogs, this will be their initial certification opportunity and for others this will be a recertification. TX-TF1 Canine Coordinator Christy Bormann says, “This evaluation is similar to when a doctor has to take a Board exam.”

On Saturday, Oct. 21, when the handlers and their dogs arrive at Disaster City®, they are immediately sequestered so they cannot see the testing area. The tests are set up to simulate the conditions found at a real disaster.

When it is their turn to test, a volunteer TX-TF1 member will escort the canine team to the testing area. The handler will first ask the evaluator some basic questions similar to those asked on a true response, such as: “Is the scene safe?” “Do you know if anyone is missing?”

Texas US&R Task Force 1 search canine Callie.

The team is then assigned a search area and will be allowed to search for 20 minutes. As the dog searches the rubble pile, it will detect scents from the live volunteer “victim” hidden in the rubble. When the dog locates the source of the scent, it will signal to the handler, by barking, that it has found a live person. The handler then marks the victim’s location and the team goes back to work searching for more trapped people.

For this evaluation, there could be anywhere from 1-6 victims hidden in a search area. After the allocated 20 minutes or when they believe they have found all the victims, the handler will brief the evaluators on how many people they found and where they believe the volunteer victims are located. The team then gets a 10-15 minute break before they go through a second similar evaluation at one more locations in Disaster City®.

After they finish their evaluation, the teams nervously wait until the end of the day to find out if they have passed. Once passing teams are identified and certificates are awarded, all of the teams, whether they passed or not, can get one-on-one feedback from their evaluators, some of FEMA’s best canine search and rescue handlers. This provides valuable feedback on how they work with their dog and things that they could do to improve their skills for real-life disaster deployments. It also makes the experience both a final exam and a good training opportunity.

“Texas Task Force 1 is excited to have teams from all over the FEMA system come together to perform this certification,” Bormann says. “Just being able to get this group of people together in one place to help put

- People, Places & Things/ (via TEEX and TX TF-1, 10/18/17)


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