FRIDAY FORUM: Just Keep Digging

“There’s no way anyone is alive in there”

Structural collapse incidents are complex. They can be very overwhelming for rescuers tactically, psychologically, and cognitively. In terms of scale, collapses often present scenes that are way outside of the “box” that most incidents fit inside.  These issues can contribute to errors in decision making, one of which is to transition from Rescue to Recovery mode too early.

We’ve all heard it, and maybe thought it ourselves, that there is no way anyone can survive such an event.  This logic has been proved wrong time and time again, however.  Humans are resilient, and have survived some insane scenarios.  Which leads to this fundamental rule of collapse rescue: stay in rescue mode until all victims are confirmed deceased or recovered.  

There are exceptions to every rule, and two to this one.  First, in a large-scale campaign event like an earthquake or hurricane with 100’s or 1000’s of collapsed buildings, the resources simply don’t exist for this type of consistent operation.  Apply tech search and structural triage, and do what you can.  But in an isolated event, full steam until you reach the foundation. 

Second, even with isolated collapses, the size of the collapse may prevent the completion of the delayering process beyond the time a human can survive without food and water. Collapse operations like the World Trade Center and Surfside will eventually have to transition to recovery.

But for everything else, continue the push.  If you need more resources, call for them.  But just keep digging.

This photo is from a building collapse that occurred in Philly in 2013, when a building being demolished fell onto an adjacent occupied building, collapsing the roof, killing 6 and injuring 14. While 13 injured and several of the deceased were rescued or recovered in the first two hours, the 14th person was located alive 13 hours after the collapse, long after many on scene had declared it a recovery.  

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