Breaking through: Marines, sailors undergo urban search, rescue training during San Francisco Fleet Week 2015

8 Oct 2015 | Capt. Agustin Solivan The Official United States Marine Corps Public Website

Approximately 40 Marines and sailors aboard the USS Somerset (LPD25) interacted with members of Bay Area urban search and rescue teams Oct. 8, 2015 on Treasure Island as a part of the disaster preparedness, disaster response training  series featured throughout San Francisco Fleet Week. The hands-on urban search and rescue training afforded the DoD’s maritime service branches the opportunity to learn and practice techniques used in real-world urban search and rescue missions.


“The training enables us to respond more effectively and organize ourselves in a more rapid manner because we have familiarity with each other — we know the equipment, we know the people and therefore everyone knows what to expect,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 William T. Waugaman, the deputy planner for Defense Support to Civil Authorities, I Marine Expeditionary Force.

Waugaman, a Marine reservist with more than 25 years of service and an engineer paramedic for San Diego Fire Rescue, took part in today’s training and explained that both service members and emergency responders alike bring a different but equally valuable set of tools to the table.
“All organizations involved in this training bring something unique to the fight," said Waugaman.

The training event featured three separate stations. At the first station instructors taught breaking and breaching, a procedure whereby emergency responders use special tools to make special cuts into cement to create entry holes that permit emergency personnel and supplies to pass through them.

At the second station service Marines and sailors were taught shoring techniques. Shoring is used when the structural integrity of a building has been damaged; it allows for  temporary fortification of the structure to allow a rescue team to safely make entry into a building for further assessment and/or to rescue victims.

Finally at the third station, service members learned cribbing techniques, which is a method that forces responders to use readily available tools at their immediate disposal at the scene of a structural collapse to remove heavy material like heavy slabs of cement — a technique that requires ample team work, resourcefulness and often times out-of-the-box thinking.

“The training creates baseline skill-sets so you know what to expect from and have confidence in the abilities of responders showing up to the scene ,“ said Thomas R. Niedernhofer, a structural engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers currently serving as the HQ Urban Search and Rescue Program Manager South Pacific Division. “During a rescue mission people get tired and you have to conduct a hand off to sustain the rescue effort."

Niedernhofer has employed these techniques firsthand during emergency  response efforts to include: the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995, the World Trade Center in 2001, and the Haitian Earthquake in 2010.  He also acknowledged that [these] skills are perishable so training of this nature is crucial.

“Training like today’s must occur regularly, it has to become automatic...practice makes perfect," said Niedernhofer.

San Francisco Fleet Week now in its 35th annual year is a week-long event that blends a unique training  and education program, bringing together key civilian emergency responders and Naval crisis-response forces to exchange best practices focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief with a particular emphasis on defense support to civil authorities.