Volume 19 Issue 1, 2004

Urban Search and Rescue—developing Australia’s capability

Greg Mullins

Archived Article


Throughout the world full-time urban fire services are usually tasked with managing the equipment, organisation, personnel, training and deployment of Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Task Forces. While fire services tend to form the core of Task Forces, by necessity they have a multi-agency, multidisciplined structure. A typical USAR Task Force comprises fire service rescue technicians, ambulance paramedics, trauma doctors, structural engineers, search dogs and handlers, fire service hazardous materials specialists, logistics specialists, and fire service commanders. Before terrorism came to prominence with the bombings of the World Trade Center in 1993 and the Alfred P Murrah building in Oklahoma City in 1995, USAR was perceived by many as a capability required solely for events such as earthquakes. Development of USAR capabilities in Australia received renewed impetus following the events of September 11 2001 in the USA, and October 2002 in Bali. Current deployable USAR capabilities are restricted to NSW, Melbourne and Brisbane. Smaller states and territories may be experiencing difficulty financing and supporting development of USAR capabilities. The Australian Government has provided welcome assistance to the states and territories to develop Chemical, Biological and Radiological (CBR) capabilities, but decided not to provide any financial assistance for the development of USAR. It is timely that this decision be reviewed, as history suggests that the likelihood of a major structural collapse is higher than a CBR incident.