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San Diego’s Best Respond to FEMA’s Call for Help During the Hurricanes

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Photos courtesy of San Diego’s CA-TF8.

San Diego Search and Rescue Task Force arrives in Texas to help with Hurricane Harvey

“These are grueling and emotional events. Teams work in areas where everything around them is completely decimated, and they work straight through, sometimes for 48 hours.” ~ Assistant Chief of Emergency Operations Chris Webber.

As hurricane Harvey swirled, inundating parts of Texas with more than three feet of rain, and again as Hurricane Irma decimated Florida, FEMA called in their 28 Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces, one of which was San Diego’s Cal Task Force 8 (CA-TF8).

CA-TF8 search and rescue in flood waters during Hurricane Harvey.

San Diego’s Task Force 8 searches the floodwaters after Hurricane Harvey.

After almost two weeks assisting with Hurricane Harvey cleanup, task force members returned, only to be sent right back out. “The deployment went well,” said San Diego Fire-Rescue Assistant Chief of Emergency Operations Chris Webber. “In the area [of Baytown] they were assigned, storm waters were receding, so their job was to check structures to make sure no one was trapped and needed rescue, or to locate those who may not have survived.” As the team cleared approximately 1,500 buildings, they also digitally mapped its coordinates and findings and sent them to Incident Command, which collated information from other teams and directed next steps, assuring maximum emergency search and rescue coverage.

What is Cal Task Force 8?

CA-TF8 in Harvey Floodwaters

CA-TF8 members carefully moving through the floodwaters.

California developed 8 disaster-ready urban search and rescue task forces after the 6.7 Northridge quake in 1994, which killed 60 and injured more than 9,000 people. The federal government so liked their expertise, that they adopted the program in the late ’90s and created 28 teams across the country that can respond to any disaster, be it natural or weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

San Diego task force members at a morning briefing in Florida

CA-TF8 morning briefing in Florida

CA-TF8 is assembled from 21 agencies throughout San Diego County. “Currently there are more than 200 people on our team,” says Webber. “A Type 1 deployment is 80 people. That’s what went to Katrina in 2005. For Harvey, FEMA requested a Type 3 deployment from San Diego, which is just 35 people.” For Irma, FEMA has again requested that San Diego send a Type 1 deployment.

CA-TF8 heads out with multiple big rigs of equipment and supplies to assist Texas's Hurricane Harvey survivors

A few of the current CA-TF8 rescuers assisted during Katrina, a disaster the likes of which FEMA had never encountered. Since then, FEMA has helped develop robust disaster teams. “Crews needed expertise in assessing structural integrity and identifying safe ingress and egress, and recognizing and dealing with hazardous materials,” Webber said. “They also needed to be self-sufficient for more than one week and still able to care for those they might rescue.”

Physically and Emotionally Challenging

Search and Rescue housing for Irma deployment

San Diego’s CA-TF8 lodging for Hurricane Irma search missions.

When asked what he most wanted people to know about CA-TF8, Weber said, “These are grueling and emotional events. Teams work in areas where everything around them is completely decimated, and they work straight through, sometimes for 48 hours. It’s tough, and they have to be mentally tough. The people that do this are dedicated. They are the best in the world because they constantly train, often on their own time.

Members of San Diego's Task Force 8

Members of San Diego’s Task Force 8 search and rescue

The CA-TF8 needs your help

Although team costs are covered by a Federal FEMA grant and the San Diego Fire Rescue Department, rescue gear has been damaged or worn out through repeated deployments to hard-hit areas like Texas and Florida.

 Rescue equipment currently needed by CA-TF8 totals $170,000 

  • Support your San Diego FirefightersSearch and rescue protective gear – $44,557
  • Satellite and  communications equipment – $40,964
  • Hydrafusion struts for building shoring and heavy object stabilization  – $17,995

You could also support our men and women on the team by providing funding for personal comfort items such as good socks, hydration packs, personal care items which are normally paid out of pocket by first responders

 Please help them by clicking on the Donate button or mail a donation to the address below and note “Task Force” on the memo line:

San Diego Regional Fire Foundation
2508 Historic Decatur Road, Suite 200
San Diego, California 92106