Disaster Medicine


May 18th 2021

12:00PM - 1:00PM EST

Emergency Response to Beirut Port Explosion

Dr. Mazen El Sayed

January 27th 2021

5:00PM - 6:00PM EST

Disaster Medicine: A Medical Manager’s Experience with South Florida Urban Search and Rescue, Task Force 2

Dr. Patricia Cantwell

Emergency Response to Beirut Port Explosion


Disaster Medicine: A Medical Manager’s Experience with South Florida Urban Search and Rescue, Task Force 2



Is there a reason the team is capped at 80 instead of having a large group of people that are on call?

The team deploys as an individual unit of 80 members. In light of the fact that the deployments are not close to home base, it can be a bit challenging to fill positions should a task force member become ill or injured. The overall team is comprised of approximately 240 members – there 3 individual rosters, each consisting of 80 members, so in fact, there is a call schedule. We have full team rosters (80 person) entitled White, Red and Blue in a rotating monthly call schedule. If anyone on the roster who is tapped to deploy is unable to go, the Task Force coordinators quickly contact other members.

Do you receive training after joining USAR or are you expected to have a certain level of experience before joining?

It is plausible to have both. I had no experience and took many awareness classes including rope rescue, confined space rescue, hazmat, water rescue, collapsed structure, medical specialist classes.

Can you talk a little about how you coordinate being on a disaster response team with your daily work?

I believe I had the opportunity to comment upon this during talk. I am fortunate to have support of colleagues – once deployed, I am off the schedule for the deployment. Deployments generally last no more than 10 days.

Regarding that map you shared at the beginning - do you have to live in certain areas of the US to have access to disaster response work?

The map depicted the location of the 28 federal USA USAR teams. There are many, many state USAR teams – the individual state teams are often in need of medical direction. There are always opportunities to look into Medical Director positions for Emergency Medical Services/Fire Rescue. In fact, this is now a structured component that Emergency Medicine Physicians often are drawn to. There are also opportunities in varied locations for membership on Disaster Management Assistance Teams (DMAT) – these teams are tasked with more direct medical management during a disaster. Recall that the Federal USAR Medical Manager’s priority is the health and well being of task force members, canines and rescue of encountered entrapped survivors.

Is there anything that you take to every mission?

We have a list of equipment, issued clothes and recommended personal things to bring. The premise is that we will be able to function for the 10 days with little resupply….we have often been fortunate to have access to laundry or logistics visits to stores to acquire items that are needed. The most important personal item for those taking Rx medications is to ensure to have a supply to last for the anticipated length of deployment.

How do you see the role of the USAR physician changing in the next decade?

There are more and more sophisticated items of rescue equipment. Communication has improved tremendously. Physicians have become involved in the overall response patter. There continues to be exceptionally timely information gleaned from Military Medicine and experience of our uniformed services. It is also a privilege to train with International USAR teams in order to strengthen experience.

Do you provide any just-in-time training to locals to help magnify the response efforts?

I personally do not, yet our Fire Rescue response is intimately involved in the organized disaster response system. I have had the opportunity to train with sanctioned FEMA classes that deliver the Disaster Medical Specialist Course.

You mentioned working with fire departments and supporting their efforts but what about other uniformed services like EMT, National Guard/ State Guard etc? Did USAR support or get supported by them?

All of these entities work side by side during a major disaster --- all of these resources were “boots on the ground” during the Katrina response. During debriefings, our individual teams would be made aware of what resources were available --- Coast Guard, EMS, etc. Remembers, that the USAR resource is an asset for the local community --- it is deployed as a helpful resource to be utilized in whatever the target community needs. All individual USAR teams are preceded by another group, the IST (Incident Support Team) – this group determines what FEMA USAR resources are needed

How about transport does USAR have organic air or ground or sea transport?

USAR Plans works with other entities to determine modes of transport – Commercial air, Coast Guard etc. Our team has a convoy of trucks for ground transportation --- the team has acquired buses for personnel at times or split personnel into vans, trucks etc.

Do you have any recommendations on trainings civilian physicians can undertake to prepare to apply for a USAR position?

The ideal thing is to resource USAR opportunities in your state --- either federal or state USAR. All such entities usually have a Medical Coordinator who can advise about what is needed. As I mentioned, the usual specialties drawn to this are Emergency Medicine, Trauma Surgery, Family Medicine, Critical Care…..there has been an Ophthalmologist; my primary specialty is Pediatric Critical Care Medicine. The major items required for physicians: ATLS, PALS, ACLS, BLS. Several on-line courses dealing with Incident Management are required. Other experience is usually picked up directly via the task force. There are courses across the country with the Disaster Response that have proven popular. TEEX.ORG, Disaster Medical Solutions, Canine training events and many military courses are available.