The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Urban Search and Rescue Response System (US&R) consists of 28 advanced search and rescue task forces strategically located at points nationwide. Managed by local emergency management agencies and/or fire departments, the teams are prepared to respond to catastrophic events outside of New York City involving the collapse of heavy steel and concrete.
In New York City, the US&R team is known as NY-TF 1. The task force is managed by the Office of Emergency Management and includes approximately 210 members from the City's Police and Fire Departments.
The impetus for forming an advanced search and rescue team for major structural collapses came in the late 1980s after a series of severe earthquakes in California, Mexico, and other locations throughout the world. While the majority of fire departments are capable of performing rescues in light- to medium-sized construction collapses, US&R members have the tools, equipment, skills, and techniques required for the most dangerous of conditions. FEMA requires each task force to be ready within six hours notice for dispatch to any area of the country. Once activated, the teams must be able to sustain themselves for 72 hours without the assistance of local jurisdictions.
While US&R was originally envisioned as a response system for natural disasters, other events have forced the task forces to broaden their reach. Two early activations of the US&R system occurred in response to Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and the 1994 Northridge Earthquake in California. US&R also activated in response to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Gulf Coast hurricanes in 2007, and the 7.1 magnitude earthquake in Haiti in 2010. Additionally, FEMA has deployed US&R for such events as the Atlanta and Salt Lake City Olympic games, the 1997 and 2001 presidential inaugurations, and the Gulf Coast hurricanes in 2007.