Dear Sir,

Recently the Gibraltar Fire and Rescue Service underwent Light Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Team training in Gibraltar, delivered by instructor from Outreach North Wales and in line with the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) Guidelines, Volume II: Preparedness and Response; Manual A – Capacity Building. INSARAG is a global network of more than 90 countries and organizations under the United Nations umbrella. 

Within the realm of its mandate, UN General Assembly Resolution 57/150 "Strengthening the Effectiveness and Coordination of International USAR Assistance", INSARAG contributes to the implementation of capacity building initiatives worldwide. A key part of this initiative is to promote and strengthen national USAR capacities and activities thereby improving search and rescue preparedness in disaster-prone countries, these range from community based USAR training initiatives; first responder training through to INSARAG USAR Classified teams at medium and heavy level, deployed globally to sudden onset disasters.

All INSARAG training is based on the five USAR key components of search, rescue, medical, logistics and management, this allows for common global terminologies and operability. This means that international and national teams can work together on a rescue site in a seamless manner.

The USAR Light Course is designed to allow teams to maintaining a surface rescue capacity at one worksite. The team will be capable of conducting rescues from structures of wood or light metal components, unreinforced masonry, adobe or raw mud and bamboo. Its logistics component will be capable of establishing a Base of Operations (BoO) including shelter, sanitation, tool repair, feeding, and hygiene arrangements. The search component will have building marking supplies and the ability to carry out a surface/physical search. The teams’ rescue component will be equipped with hand-operated cutting tools, ropes and bars for lifting, and cribbing materials for stabilizing damaged structures. The medical component will have life-support equipment to care for the team (including any search dogs) and for patients rescued, including stabilization, packaging and removal.

Their role is limited to: -

Reconnaissance and survey of the affected area.

Identification of hazards and undertake actions to reduce the level of risk.

Control of public utilities.

Isolation of hazardous materials and identification if it can be safely done.

Surface search and rescue.

Initiating medical care and extrication of victims.

Establishment of Casualty Collection Points.

Assisting international teams to integrate into local emergency management arrangements.

This is but the most basic of courses, aimed at as many participants as possible (fire-fighters; ambulance personnel & paramedics; the military; police; St John; Civil Protection; other voluntary organisations) taken into account that the majority of live rescues from collapsed structures (over 90%) are not conducted by highly skilled heavy or medium USAR teams, but by first responders and members of the public. A light USAR teams usually consists of 19 members from a single or mixed organization, with a Team Leader and four cells (Operations & Planning; Rescue; Medical & Safety; Logistics & Equipment).

These courses do not carry a heavy theoretical and practical input and require little logistical support, it is not uncommon to have anything between 30 to 50 participants in each course, which could have easily incorporated members of the Defense Fire and Rescue Service; RGP; Ambulance Service; Royal Gibraltar Regiment and St John. In my opinion, for this training to have been exclusively delivered to a small contingent from the GFRS, has been a wasted resource and a missed opportunity to expand the pool of Light USAR capacity in Gibraltar.

Joe Bishop

Emergency Management Consultant

* Joe Bishop is founder member of the International Search & Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG), has worked on the developing of USAR Guidelines; he’s on the approved list of the UN USAR Classifiers and Mentors and conducts training for INSARAG globally at all levels, from first responder training up to and including Heavy and Medium USAR Classified Teams.