Local search and rescue teams may be called on

January 14, 2010 7:30:09 PM PST
The U.S. already has two of its 28 federally-funded urban search and rescue teams on the ground in Haiti. The Bay Area teams were not initially expected to be sent, but the magnitude of the devastation could call them into action.

The intense and intricate rescue efforts in Haiti demand skills that have been perfected by two Bay Area urban search and rescue teams. Dr. Ben Ho, M.D., has two decades of experience with California Task Force 4 out of Oakland. It is now on standby for deployment.

"The capability that we bring is the extradition of deeply entombed or trapped victims," says Dr. Ho.

Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman says his Task Force 3 has 72 people and 60,000 pounds of equipment ready to go at a moment's notice, and it's looking more and more likely his team will be needed.

"Yes the world is involved, yes there are other rescue teams coming from all over the world, but you are going to have sustained operations here and you're seeing it," says Schapelhouman.

The Bay Area search and rescue teams say if they are deployed to Haiti, their mission will be among the most difficult.

After three days, the survival rate for trapped victims diminishes drastically so rescue efforts will more likely become recovery efforts. It is a grim task both bay area teams performed in Oklahoma City following the 1995 bombings and in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

"Our solace is really finding people, getting closure, and knowing that we could do everything we could do to return their society to some sense of normalcy," says Schapelhouman.

Both Schapelhouman and Dr. Ho say they are pleased to see the response aimed at helping survivor, especially resources such as the Navy's hospital ship Comfort.

"You have hospitals, you have OR's on board the ship and able to evacuate the people off the island away from the area, that makes a lot of sense," says Dr. Ho.

Even when the task ahead is daunting, the toughest part can be the wait.