The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department’s urban search and rescue team (USAR), VATF-1, has successfully completed the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group’s (INSARAG) External Reclassification Exercise. This allows Virginia Task Force 1 (VATF-1) to continue to operate as an international search and rescue team.
VATF-1 is a domestic and international disaster response resource comprised of approximately 200 specially trained career and volunteer fire and rescue personnel with expertise in the rescue of victims from collapsed structures following a natural or man-made catastrophic event. The task force has extensive international (USAR Team 1) and domestic (VATF-1) disaster response experience.
In 1986, the VATF-1 was established in partnership with the US Agency for International Development – Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID-OFDA) to fill the void of qualified international search and rescue resources in the Americas Region. In the early 1990s, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced plans to develop a domestic urban search and rescue response system. VATF-1 was accepted into this system in 1991. VATF-1 is proud to be one of 28 domestic resources qualified by FEMA to assist with homeland security and one of only two resources utilized by USAID-OFDA for international response. It is recognized as a premier leader in for the provision of training in catastrophic event mitigation, response and recovery techniques, and readiness.
When activated, the VATF-1 sends a team of 70 people comprised of firefighters and paramedics from the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department and highly-trained civilians, including physicians, canine handlers, structural engineers, communications experts, and heavy rigging specialists. All related expenses are fully reimbursed by USAID-OFDA and FEMA resulting in no cost to the citizens of Fairfax County, Virginia.
To remain operational, VATF-1 must be classified by INSARAG External Classification (IEC). INSARAG is a global network of more than 80 countries and organizations under the United Nations umbrella and deals with USAR related issues, aiming to establish minimum international standards for USAR teams and methodology for international coordination in earthquake response based on INSARAG guidelines.