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NEWS | July 24, 2023

New York Guard Soldiers Learn Urban Search and Rescue Skills

By Staff Sgt. Matthew Gunther, New York National Guard

ORISKANY, N.Y. – Four members of Israel’s Home Front Command taught New York Army National Guard engineers techniques for locating and rescuing people from destroyed buildings July 17-19 at the New York State Preparedness Training Center.

The 15 Soldiers are members of the 827th Engineer Company, assigned to serve as the search and extraction element for the FEMA Region II Homeland Response Force. Staffed by the New York and New Jersey National Guards, that force responds to natural disasters or terrorist attacks.

Their mission is to go into destroyed buildings to locate survivors and pull them out, according to Maj. Kevin O’Reilly Jr., the executive officer of the 204th Engineer Battalion, the 827th’s higher headquarters.

O’Reilly said members of Israel’s Home Front Command, created in 1992, are the acknowledged experts in the art and science of saving people from destroyed buildings.

“The Israelis’ success in search and rescue boils down to the analytical, engineering-based approach which they apply to a collapsed structure,” O’Reilly said. “They are able to understand and map collapsed structures, accurately predicting where to find victims trapped in chaotic rubble.”

The Israeli techniques were eye-opening, said Spc. Jerome Griffin.

“I think from a Soldier’s perspective, we have a tendency to want to jump in and just start saving people as fast as we can, but the engineers from Israel really stressed patience,” Griffin said. “They said to take a step back and really calculate how to operate safely and smoothly without causing more damage, and that really resonated with me.”

New York is one of four states, along with Illinois, Indiana and Missouri, that have cultivated training and information exchange relationships with Israel’s Home Front Command, according to Maj. Davie Myones, the New York National Guard State Partnership Program officer.

The New York National Guard and Israeli Home Front Command initiated a partnership in 2006, formalized in 2019 with a bilateral security cooperation agreement.

“What my Israeli counterpart and I really wanted to do was create a venue for the exchange of ideas and to build relationships,” Myones said. “All of these personnel have so much experience and knowledge, we wanted to get them together and share these things with the intent of making all of their organizations better.”

A major part of the Home Front Command mission is conducting search and rescue during disasters, said Israeli Lt. Col. Inbar Solomon.

She said that when other countries need help conducting those missions, Israel responds to assist and learn from those disasters.

“Whenever there is a large-scale disaster, such as the earthquake in Haiti, the one in Turkey recently, or even the building collapse in Miami, we try to send a team to help with search and rescue efforts,” Solomon said. “This typically forms a bond between Israel and these countries, and we also learn a lot from the collaboration.”

The Israelis have been called to assist in building collapse rescue and recovery missions ranging from the Turkish earthquake in February to the Champlain Towers collapse in Miami Beach, Florida, in 2021.

Five members of the New York City fire department, five members of the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control, and two Soldiers from the Missouri National Guard also took part in the training.

New York’s Preparedness Training Center is a 1,100-acre  facility run by the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services. It includes a rubble pile urban search and rescue simulator, a 45,000-square-foot “cityscape,” and a swift water and flood rescue simulator.

On the first day, the training focused on classroom presentations about the types of events that lead to search and rescue operations, the role of engineers and an equipment overview.

On Day 2, the teams used various equipment at the search and rescue simulator. This included an excavator and crane truck for moving heavy debris and rubble and jacks and lumber for lifting and bracing.

The four Israelis offered insights on safely retrieving the casualties — simulated by dummies — at the simulator and in the classroom.

“Never count on friction to keep an element in place,” Maj. Matti Adan told the National Guard Soldiers and civilian firefighters, when extracting victims trapped by chunks of destroyed concrete.

On Day 3, Soldiers and firefighters learned how to brace and prop up weak or compromised structures.

“All of these personnel have so much experience and knowledge,” Myones said. “We wanted to get them together and share these things with the intent of making all of their organizations better.”

Solomon said the training was a positive experience for the Home Front Command soldiers and officers.

“It is a good way for us to share what we have learned and also to gain more knowledge ourselves, and we intend to do it again in the future,” Solomon said.



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