Everyone has heard about the building collapse in Surfside, FL. And most people have heard that the search/rescue is ‘going too slow’!
The problem is, IMHO, people have seen other rescue attempts in other parts of the world where the people go in and move pieces/parts by themselves, bulldozers, front end loaders, etc. are brought in immediately and they tear into the collapsed structure…
What is never shown or talked about is how many voids or further collapses those actions precipitate… nor how many additional lives are lost.
Many years ago I went through rescue training and was certified in the State of Florida, so I’m sure what I was taught is outmoded today, but a lot of it stuck with me all these years.
The first response is almost always going to be the fire department, who will immediately set up an incident command and call the utility companies to shut off electrical, water, and any other ‘services’ to the building.
The first things will be getting hose lines in place, trying to determine the ‘scope’ of the collapse, the potential for additional collapse, hazardous materials, and six different surveys of the collapse (all four sides, top, and if possible from underneath).
SAFETY of the searchers will always be the priority for the Incident Commander (IC) throughout the entire evolution.
An initial search will be started as soon as the IC determines it is safe to at least make a cursory search of available areas. There will be an immediate call for search and rescue expertise, shoring material, additional support, heavy rescue, and available heavy equipment that can be used to move things. The shoring material will be used to try to stabilize the collapse, and will also be used for any tunnels/shafts that may be dug/bored/etc. Monitoring will be done for any shifting of the collapse/debris field the entire time searchers are active.
The first searches will be external for anyone visible, then for voids where people might be. There are various types of voids, even in collapses that are caused by walls, support beams, various structures within the building and heavy equipment/etc. These are also extremely dangerous, for obvious reasons. But they will be the first searched, before any boring/tunneling/etc. due to the potential for them to collapse further due to tunneling/etc.
Another thing that will be done is ‘quiet time’, this is when all radios are shut off, all extraneous noise is minimized to the maximum extent possible, and people on all sides listen for people calling, moaning, etc. The rescuers will try to triangulate those noises so that they know where to try to enter the collapse. If available, they will also use electronics and borescope type cameras to do the same thing, and when the dogs arrive, make use of dogs to attempt to locate victims. This will be done on a regular basis, especially early in the search phase.
Considerations will include work time (usually not more than 12 hours a shift, possibly less depending on the weather/conditions), health hazards (breathable air is nice, which is why anyone going into a void/tunnel/shaft will be wearing a SCBA), roping searchers up, and safety people, in case of a further collapse.
The weight of debris is another issue for tunneling/shoring… wood debris averages 35 pounds per cubic foot, steel debris almost 500 pounds per cubic foot, and the weight of concrete or masonry rubble was 10 pounds per square foot for every inch of thickness. Structural engineers (who should be onsite by that time) should assist in determining the load plan for shoring.
A debris removal plan will be devised and coordinated with planned interior searches, and will normally start from the top down. This stage usually requires heavy equipment and expert riggers to rig the debris to be lifted. This is also why most searches work from the top down.
All of the above take time. And more time… As we’re seeing, it’s NOT a quick process, but the IC also doesn’t want to kill the searchers either. It is a slow process, and will seem to observers like the searchers aren’t doing anything, but trust me, they are working their asses off as safely as they can, and they are STILL taking chances.
So say a prayer for those missing, the families that have lost loved ones, and those who are doing the searching. They all need it.
And patience… lots of patience…