Transwiki:Wikiversity-School of Fire and Emergency Management/Rescue Victims of a Building Collapse:Reconnaissance

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Reconnaissance[edit | edit source]

The Rescue Plan[edit | edit source]

The success of rescue operations depends principally on the Team Leader organising a quick and thorough reconnaissance of the situation, and then through the appreciation process, developing a workable plan.

Reconnaissance & Rescue By Stages[edit | edit source]

No set of rules can be devised to give leaders specific guidance on how to tackle every job, but by proceeding in stages in accordance with a regular plan they are less liable to overlook important points and more likely to appreciate, and organise, appropriate action.

R.E.P.E.A.T.[edit | edit source]

This method of Rescue by Stages is consistent with the International Search And Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) rescue response guidelines.

R Reconnaissance & Survey
E Elimination of Utilities
P Primary Surface Search & Rescue
E Exploration of all Voids & Spaces
A Access by Selected Debris Removal
T Terminate by General Debris Control

Reconnaissance & Survey This is the initial activity undertaken upon arrival at a scene. It includes the resources available to the Team, including personnel, equipment, local expertise, level of training, size and complexity of task, etc. It also takes into account external factors including the weather conditions, external and subsequent threats, structure, or building, in or near the area, surface conditions, etc.

The assessment of the area, or site, that is searched for possible victims (surface and/or buried) and the identification and evaluation of resources and hazards. Information gained from this activity should be used to compile a “master” rescue plan of the area or site, where victims, hazards, access, egress, etc. are shown.

Reconnaissance is an ongoing activity, and is not completed until the operation is finished. Reconnaissance is:

C Continuous
A Accurate
R Rapid, and
T Thorough.

It is essential that every member of a rescue team be trained in reconnaissance. In many instances the Team Leader will be responsible for a number of tasks, and personnel deployed must be capable of conducting reconnaissance and of reporting observations.

All sources should be exploited to obtain information regarding casualties, damage, and likely hazards. The reconnaissance summary should be aimed at an accurate assessment of:

  • The number and location of casualties
  • Dangerous situations such as gas, electricity, overhanging walls, unsafe structural components, or anything else which may endanger rescue personnel or survivors
  • Access to the casualties or task and alternate exits
  • The extent and type of damage
  • Appropriate services and support agencies
  • Available resources, both personnel and equipment
  • The time the task would take with available resources.

Elimination of Utilities All utilities must be evaluated and controlled for the safety of all those involved. It does not involve any treatment to, or rescue of, victims, as the main need is for information at this stage. (It is expected that some rescue activities will be taking place simultaneously.)

Primary Surface Search & Rescue Surface, and lightly trapped, victims should be removed as quickly, and safely, as possible. Extreme care must be taken during this phase to ensure that rescuers do not become victims. It is at this stage that many of the techniques in this manual will be put to use.

Where a number of structures have to be searched, it is vital to adopt a disciplined Priority Structure Assessment (PSA). Also the hazard marking system, and the search marking system must be applied at this stage.

Exploration Of All Voids And Spaces All voids and accessible spaces created as a result of the event must be explored for live victims.


Only suitably trained dog units, or specially trained rescue personnel should be used in ‘void’ and ‘space’ searches. General Rescue personnel should only enter void spaces if visual contact with outside personnel can be maintained.

Access By Selected Debris Removal The use of special tools and/or techniques may be necessary after locating a victim. It may be necessary to remove only certain obstructions to gain access to the victim.

Information gained from the reconnaissance can be helpful during this phase. Local knowledge and/or expertise will assist in the identification of possible victim location, and also areas where structural safety is a concern. Experts might include building wardens, survivors, engineers, etc.

Areas that have been identified by search dogs, or the use of electronic search equipment will be given priority at this stage.

It would be unusual for heavy equipment to be used during this phase.

Termination by General Debris Removal This is usually conducted after all known victims have been recovered and accounted for.

An exception would be when information indicates the possibility of other victims located where a large amount of debris is obstructing operations. The decision to use heavy equipment during this phase must be given serious consideration, especially when there is a possibility that live victims are still in the debris.

The Appreciation Process[edit | edit source]

The appreciation process is a simple method of problem solving which is effective in rescue situations. It involves the logical assessment of the situation, and the reconnaissance, and results in the formation of the workable plan.

The appreciation process consists of six steps: Step One – Define The Problem The problem to be solved, or task to be accomplished must be clearly defined. The problem may be too large or complex to be easily tackled, and may be divided into a number of manageable elements, each with a set aim.

Step Two – State The Aim The aim is a clear statement of what the team has to achieve in order to solve the problem. The aim must be clear, concise, achievable, and expressed in positive terms. The aim will form the mission statement in an operational briefing and should be as simple as: “To rescue the casualty from the bottom of the lift shaft”.

Step Three – Consider The Factors Factors are points relevant to the problem that has to be solved. Some factors that may have to be considered in an operational situation are:

  • Number and location of casualties
  • Time and space
  • Topography
  • Weather
  • Available resources, both personnel and equipment
  • Support requirements and availability
  • Communications
  • Logistics
  • Priority of tasks.

Each factor will lead to one or more logical deductions, so that the leader should be in a position to say: “If this is the case – then…” Factors in an appreciation may be set out as in the following example:

Factor The casualty’s legs are trapped under a heavy steel


Deduction The rescue team must use cutting and lifting equipment

to free the casualty.

Each factor should be thoroughly examined and care should be taken not to introduce irrelevant facts into the examination.

Step Four – Determine Courses Open All possible courses that will attain the aim and that are practical must be considered in the ‘Courses Open’ segment. Only facts dealt with in the ‘Factors’ should be considered and no new material should be introduced at this stage.

Step Five – Decide On Best Course At this stage, a choice must be made from one of the possible solutions developed by the appreciation process. If more than one workable solution is produced and the best course is not obvious, the following criteria should be applied to each:

  • Risk — Which solution carries the least risk factor in its execution, or the consequence of failure?
  • Simplicity — Which is the simplest course?
  • Time — If urgency is a factor, which course can be completed in the shortest time?
  • Economy — In the terms of resources, which solution imposes the least demand?

Step Six – Plan The plan will result from the choice of the best course open. That is, it will be the best solution to the problem with the most advantages and the least disadvantages. The plan must be simple, and it must relate directly to the aim. When completed, the plan should be checked against the following test questions:

  • Is the reasoning sound?
  • Is it set out in a logical order?
  • Is everything relevant to the problem?
  • Has anything relevant been left out?
  • Is it free of uncertainties or ambiguities?
  • Is it accurate (positions, timings and so on)?
  • Has the aim been kept in mind throughout?
  • Can the plan achieve the aim?

Continuing Action[edit | edit source]

Having made decisions and deployed personnel, Team Leaders must ensure reconnaissance is continued with a view to allocating priorities for the further deployment of resources.

Rescuers deployed on a particular building, damaged by blast or natural causes, should make careful observation of how that building has collapsed. The art of rescue lies in being able to identify and exploit to the maximum, all debris formations such as voids etc, which can be used to facilitate access to casualties once their whereabouts have been fixed by firm information or inference.

Attempt to locate and identify the parts of the building and especially those parts in which casualties are reported to be. This will provide a rough idea where casualties might be found in relation to the various parts of the damaged structure.

At times such as this, a leader will need to call upon all accumulated experience and training and combine them with effective decision-making.

Calling And Listening Techniques[edit | edit source]

When it is known that people are still missing, and rescuers are confronted with a major structural collapse, the casualties may be trapped within voids or survival spaces formed by the collapsing building. A ‘Calling and Listening’ period should be introduced — this has, in the past, saved many lives.

The leader places available team members at suitable vantage points around the area where people may be trapped, and then calls: SILENCE, SILENCE FOR RESCUE. Each member, as directed by the leader calls: RESCUE TEAM HERE, CAN YOU HEAR ME? while the other members listen intently for any reply. If none is heard it is a good plan to tap on a wall, or on any gas or water pipe, beam etc. running into the debris, all of which are good conductors of sound, and again listen for an answer.

On hearing a reply, each listener points to the place from which a sound came, thus ‘pin pointing’ the position. Once contact has been established with a trapped person, it must be maintained. At night this procedure is best done by pointing in the direction of sounds with torches. Rescuers must not be affected by peer pressure and must point to where they think the sound comes from.

Specialist resources such as trained dogs, heat sensors, fibre optic probes, acoustic locators and the like should be utilised where available. If casualties are located, their recovery will entail removing debris according to:

  • The location of the casualty
  • The nature of their injuries (if known)
  • The layout of the building
  • The way in which the building has collapsed.

Where it is not possible to account for all missing people, it may be ecessary to strip the site methodically. When debris has been relocated, the pile should be suitably marked.

Damage To Buildings[edit | edit source]

The type of construction of a building gives some indication of how it may collapse, as a result of a blast, cyclonic wind, or earthquake. Most structures will contain voids or spaces in which trapped people could remain alive for relatively long periods. To know where these safe places may be, it is necessary to know the broad characteristics of construction types.

Types Of Buildings[edit | edit source]

This section is quite New Zealand specific, but helpful nonetheless. Buildings can be grouped into categories by the methods and materials used in their construction:

  • Light timber framed
  • Unreinforced masonry
  • Reinforced concrete masonry (blockwork)
  • Concrete tilt-up
  • Reinforced concrete/structural steel.

Light Timber Framed

  • Low rise
  • Typically residential or school buildings
  • Includes brick veneers.

Unreinforced Masonry

  • Brick or stone construction prior to mid-1930’s
  • Could have concrete or timber floors
  • May or may not be strengthened with steel or concrete elements.

Reinforced Concrete Masonry (Blockwork)

  • Typically low-rise (up to 3 storeys)
  • 1960’s onwards.

Concrete Tilt-Up

  • Typically industrial buildings, but also newer medium-rise residential buildings.

Reinforced Concrete/Structural Steel

  • Ranges of different structural bracing systems (wall panels, moment resisting frames)
  • Concrete floors
  • All eras/ all sizes.

Types Of Collapse[edit | edit source]

All buildings, when subjected to sufficient pressure will collapse in a manner that is largely dependent upon the type of construction. In most instances the floors, ceilings, and roof will collapse in large sections and not disintegrate into a large number of small sections. Cyclonic pressure is the exception to this rule.

These large sections, when they fall, will create voids. The most common types are:

  • The ‘V’ type
  • The ‘lean-to’
  • The ‘horizontal/pancake’.
The ‘V’ Type Collapse

This can occur in any type of building, but is more general in the unframed type and is caused by a heavy weight of debris such as the roofing, ceiling, furniture etc. falling on, or near, the centre of an upper floor or ceiling. This causes the joists to break and collapse in the form of a ‘V’, thus creating two voids in which casualties may be trapped.

The ‘Lean To’ Collapse

In many cases only one of the load bearing walls will collapse, and the upper floor ceiling will ‘hinge’ on the remaining wall, thus creating the most common and the most difficult type of collapse to deal with. Precautions must be taken at the earliest possible moment to prevent a complete collapse by shoring or strutting.

The ‘Horizontal/Pancake’ Type Collapse

In some cases both load bearing walls may be sufficiently damaged to permit the upper floor or floors, ceiling, or roof to pancake down into the room below.

The debris will probably land on furniture or some other obstruction, thus creating a void.

Reinforcing rods and fire-distorted structural steel may create difficult and hazardous rescue problems. However, these materials will create many safe places from which people may be rescued. Rescue from framed structures may not be as difficult as from unframed, except for the fact that these buildings are usually large and multi-storied.

Precautions In Operations[edit | edit source]

In the interest of safety to both the trapped and the rescuers, a thorough appreciation must be made before any rescue operation is commenced. The main safety considerations are as follows:

  • Do not move any debris in contact with the collapse without assessing its importance to the stability of the site.
  • Always stabilise a collapse with shoring before entering a void.
  • Entry and rescue procedures for confined spaces must comply with the provisions of AS2865 or local standards outside of Australia or New Zealand.
  • Always appreciate the forces and their possible direction of movement in all

types of collapse.

  • Pack and support vertically, horizontally, and laterally whenever and wherever possible.
  • In all materials used, consider their strength in relation to the loads to which they will be subjected.
  • Any disaster will invariably result in ruptured electrical water, gas, and sewer lines and, although these will be primarily the responsibility of the public utility, it is essential that rescue personnel be trained to deal with such problems in the initial stages.

Crush Injuries[edit | edit source]

It should be remembered that casualties may be found who have suffered severe crush injuries. These people will be suffering from shock and their breathing passages may be clogged by the dust contained in the debris. Rescuers must take immediate steps to provide a clear airway for such casualties.

People trapped in debris and suffering from crush injuries need rapid and expert medical attention. These victims should be treated, if possible, before release from entrapment.

Debris Clearance[edit | edit source]

Two methods by which people trapped under a pile of debris can be extracted are:

  • By clearance of debris, ie: by removing the debris piece by piece until the

casualties are uncovered and freed.

  • By the construction of tunnels and linking of voids.

If anyone survives at all, inside or under a large pile of debris after a building has collapsed, it is because some heavy timber (a floor, or other portion of the structure) has fallen or remained fixed, in such a way as to protect this person from the main impact and weight of the debris. Furniture can sometimes protect a casualty. Unless something of this kind has happened, it is unlikely that the casualty will survive. This protection may be of a very unstable nature, and, unless great care is exercised, it may collapse.

Internal collapse can be avoided only by disturbing the debris as little as possible during rescue operations, and by making sure that, as one portion of the debris is removed, the remainder is not dislodged and allowed to slide or fall.

Careful observance of these principles reduces the risk of further injury to trapped people, resulting in greater speed in the rescue operation. The ideal is “speed with safety”.

When Debris Clearance Is Necessary If no information is available regarding the approximate position of people trapped in debris, rescue can usually be effected only by total debris clearance. The essential difference between debris clearance as a rescue operation and debris clearance to clear a site is that, so long as there is a reasonable chance of recovering casualties by debris clearance, it must be proceeded with by rescue teams with unremitting effort. Rescue services must continue at work until it is certain that nobody is still alive, and that the responsible officer, according to local arrangements, decides that operations can be discontinued.

Methods Of Debris Clearance

  • When debris clearance is undertaken for rescue purposes, the debris should be moved clear of the demolished building, and not merely from one part of the site to another.
  • Debris can be removed by hand or by using other receptacles found on the site. In a confined space or over obstacles, it is best to form a human chain.
  • It may sometimes be necessary when clearing debris, to cut a lane through it to reach a casualty. Great care must be taken in so doing, to ensure that the sides of the lane do not collapse. These can be made safe, where necessary, by a simple form of timbering or strutting.

Precautions In Operations

  • Exercise care in the use of edged tools in debris clearance.
  • Debris close to casualties should always be removed by hand.
  • Rescuers must wear gloves.
  • Rescuers must not climb over debris during the clearing operation unless absolutely necessary.
  • Debris should be withdrawn only when it is certain that no further collapse will be caused.
  • Heavy equipment should be operated only at the direction of the officer in charge.
  • Movement of major debris elements must be carefully coordinated.

Building Marking[edit | edit source]

General Area Marking

In any major event, international support may be required in the form of Urban Search And Rescue (USAR) teams. It is important that information related to structure identification, conditions, hazards, and victim status, is displayed in a standardised fashion to ensure uniformity and clarity.

This system standardises team functions, worksite hazards, mapping, sketch and landmark labelling with common symbols, ensures the accuracy of search assessment markings, and documents team accomplishments.

  • Common Identification System:
    • Marking
    • Signalling
  • Structure Assessment:
    • Search
    • Rescue
    • Special hazards of that structure
    • Victim Location.
  • Results:
    • Warning
    • Tracking
    • Continuity
    • Commonality.
It is important to identify locations within a single structure.

The ‘address’ side of the building shall be defined as SIDE 1. Other sides of the structure shall be assigned numerically in a clockwise manner from SIDE 1.

The interior of the structure will be divided into QUADRANTS:
  • The quadrants shall be identified ALPHABETICALLY in a clockwise manner starting from where the side 1 and side 2 perimeter meet.
  • The centre core, where all four quadrants meet will be identified as QUADRANT E (i.e. central core lobby, etc).

Multi-storey structures must have each floor clearly identified. If not clearly discernible, the floors should be referenced from the interior.

The entrance level floor will be designated as Level 1, then moving upward to the next floor will be Level 2, Level 3 etc. Conversely, the first floor below entrance level would be Basement 1, then Basement 2, etc.

Structure Assessment Marking

The basic symbol consists of a 1m x 1m square box at the primary access point into any compromised structure.

Example Marking Box
Example Completed Marking Box

Victim Marking[edit | edit source]

An easy way to understand the USAR marking system is to place it in a scenario context.

Potential Victim in Area

Scenario: A five-person search team arrives at a collapsed structure. A man standing outside the building informs the team that it is his apartment block, and says that his wife and son are still inside on the second floor, in what the team would identify as Quadrant A. Initially, a V would be placed in the area to identify a potential victim location, due to the intelligence received from the husband.

Potential Victim Location

The search team would then conduct a technical search to locate the victims. Assuming they get some form of visual or audible confirmation, an arrow would be added to indicate the direction of the victims.

Confirmed Victim(s) Location

Assume the woman is alive and her son and one other person in the area are dead.

Information regarding the live and dead is added below the V.

Confirmed (Dead) Location

Marking for the dead victims only, that are still on site is:

Extricated Live Victim(s)

Once the woman was recovered, and only the dead remain, the information below the V is modified by putting a line through the Live Victim information, as well as a line through the V.

Extricated Dead Victim

Once all victims (live and dead) have been removed, then the entire V marking would be encircled.

Other Markings[edit | edit source]

General cordon markings (marking tape, cordon, banners, flagging etc)—to be used for small, defined area. They can be enlarged to include other non-bildings (i.e. bridge, dangerous zones, security, etc). Large areas may require barricades/fences/patrol/etc.

Operational Work Zone
Collapse / Hazard Zone

Facility Iconic flags, banners, balloons etc. (must identify team identity, team medical facility, team CP).

Vehicle Vehicles must be marked with team name and function (flag, magnetic sign etc).

Team and function

  • Response team identified by uniform, patch, etc.
  • Personnel – the following positions should preferably be colour-coded, with plain text, on armbands, helmets, etc.
    • Management position(s) – white
    • Medical position(s) – red cross / red crescent
    • Safety / Security position(s) – orange.

The Dead[edit | edit source]

Note: This is current acceptable practice in New Zealand. Be sure to check the legal position in your own country.

Identification And Removal Although identification of the dead is a Police responsibility, routine procedures may not be feasible in a major disaster. Police Disaster Victim identification (DVI) teams, located at various points around the country will be deployed to a disaster area and may require Civil Defence Emergency Management assistance.

  • In general, do not remove bodies from the position in which they were found without the agreement of the Police.
  • Nevertheless, a rescuer may be justified in moving a body:
    • When rescuers would be put at risk if they had to re-enter the damaged building or structure where the body is located.
    • Where it is necessary in order to reach an injured person.
    • Where the body itself might be affected by flooding, fire, or imminent collapse of a building or structure.
  • The exact position in which a body is found may be critical to the identification of that person, particularly if there is extensive mutilation.
  • Where bodies do not have to be removed from the building or structure for reasons of safety, make a notebook entry of the location of the body and advise the Police as soon as possible. If possible, do not leave the site until the Police have arrived.
  • Where, in the interests of safety, it is considered that bodies should be removed from the exact location of where the body was found, then the person finding the body must collect all necessary information (including any identity obtained from survivors, and personal belongings found with the body). This should be recorded and attached to the body.

Suspicious Circumstances

  • If you are in any way suspicious as to the cause of death (suspecting either murder or suicide), do not disturb the body and surrounding area, but record, secure, and then notify the nearest Police.
  • Where there is danger of further damage to the body, (by fire, flood, or collapse of the building or structure, or danger to rescue workers and Police), then the body may be removed to a safe place which can be secured.
  • Give the Police all vital information (covering the location and position of the body, cause of death, suspicions, circumstances, personal belongings, etc.) included in a full report as soon as possible.
  • Photographic records of the original position and surrounding area would be most beneficial, where available.

Conduct At The Scene

  • In the presence of death, everyone should be respectful, subdued, and orderly.
  • There should be no attempt at humour.
  • Although survivors may be shocked when seeing their relative or friend covered, indicating death, DO cover a severely mutilated body.
  • Otherwise, treat a body as you would a low priority casualty.

Template:Rescue Victims of a Building Collapse