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FEMA USAR Job Descriptions

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In the event of a disaster, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, will deploy the three closest Urban Search and Rescue, or USAR, task forces. Each task force includes two 31-person teams, four dogs, and equipment necessary to facilitate search-and-rescue operations. You must meet experience and training requirements to join a USAR task force.

Primary Responsibilities

As a USAR task-force member, you’ll search collapsed buildings and rescue survivors. You’ll provide emergency medical services, evaluate and stabilize damaged structures, and assess and control gas, electric service and hazardous materials. You may also mobilize and work with search-and-rescue dogs.

Education and Experience

Firefighters, engineers, medical professionals, canine handlers and managers with special training in USAR environments make up USAR task-force teams. How much education and experience you need to work on a USAR task force will vary depending on your specialization. A doctor, for example, must have his medical degree and be licensed to practice. An applicant interested in working as a senior emergency management specialist, for example, must have at least one year of experience working in the private sector or for a federal, local or state government agency. She must be able to demonstrate that this experience includes assessing, implementing, administering and delivering disaster-related housing programs and direct housing assistance to the general public.

Training and Licensure

FEMA requires all USAR task-force members to undergo hundreds of hours of training. For example, you’ll learn the procedures for rescuing people in confined spaces, water and in collapsed structures. FEMA will not certify any training you received outside of its direct control, and will require you to train with its instructors, skilled in the many USAR functions. You must also be certified in CPR.


The skills you’ll need to work for a FEMA USAR task force depend on your role. Technical search specialists, for example, must know how to use rope rescue hardware, tie a simple figure-8, and be familiar with anchor systems. They should also know how to attach themselves to a raising or lowering system and know how to use it to ascend and descend. Management specialists, for example, must be able to manage personnel and operations. You should be able to identify and resolve problems, and work well on your own and with others. If you’re claustrophobic, prone to vertigo, or faint at the sight of blood, you may want to consider a different career, as you won’t know the specifics of required search-and-rescue activities until you get to the site.


William Henderson has been writing for newspapers, magazines and journals for more than 15 years. He served as editor of the "New England Blade" and is a former contributor to "The Advocate." His work has also appeared on The Good Men Project, Life By Me and The Huffington Post.

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