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A Virginia Beach-based search and rescue team arrived in Florida Friday morning to help victims of Hurricane Matthew.
Their arrival comes one day after the Federal Emergency Management Agency ordered the deployment of Virginia Task Force 2, an 88-member urban search and rescue team. The team, made up of fire-department members from Hampton Roads and across Virginia, left Thursday evening from the Virginia Beach Fire Training Center, 928 S. Birdneck Rd., according to Art Kohn, public information officer for the City of Virginia Beach Fire Department.
“Once they call these people, they just have hours to get here,” Kohn said. “It’s really a logistical feat.”
Participants in VA-TF2, as the task force is known, left at 7:38 p.m. Thursday. Their ranks include engineers, medical professionals, K-9 handlers and experts in logistics and communications.
Getting them ready to leave for Florida was a logistical operation of its own, including help from departmental recruits and cadets.
“It’s a big undertaking and it’s all hands on deck,” Kohn said.
The call-up of comes one year after VA-TF2 conducted search-and-rescue operations in South Carolina, when Hurricane Joaquin triggered record flooding.
The team’s resume dates back even further than that, though. Their experience includes efforts in New York in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy, post-earthquake search and rescue operations in Haiti in 2010 and responses to the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
FEMA created the National Urban Search and Rescue System in 1989, according to VA-TF2’s web site, www.vatf2.com. The agency organizes local emergency-service personnel into disaster-response task forces, which it then deploys during national disasters and emergencies.
VA-TF2’s web site also lists the team’s expertise, including: search-and-rescue measures in damaged or collapsed buildings; emergency medical help for victims, task-force members and rescue dogs; reconnaissance to evaluate damage and give damage assessments to local, state and federal officials; surveys and assessments of situations involving hazardous substances; structural and hazard assessments of buildings to support disaster-relief operations; stabilizing damaged structures; and coordinating federal resources to help find, remove and treat victims trapped inside collapsed buildings.
Still, Florida might not be the task force’s final destination.
Depending on whether the hurricane heads up the East Coast, they could be moved to Georgia, or even sent back to Virginia.
“That could still happen,” Kohn said.