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Special Report: Seismic Cuts

There used to be an Urban Search and Rescue Team that would be ready to respond to large earthquakes. But the team was disbanded in 2008 due to a lack of funding.

Posted: Nov 21, 2018 5:26 PM
Updated: May 3, 2021 12:03 PM

EUGENE, Ore. -- The "Big One" is expected to hit the west coast at any moment. But local first responders said they don't have the resources they used to have in case the unthinkable happens.

KEZI 9 News spoke with Chris Heppel, the deputy chief with Eugene Springfield Fire. He said they used to have an Urban Search and Rescue Team that was paid for by the state and federal government. But the team was disbanded in 2008 due to a lack of funding.

Heppel said it was made up of 50 to 80 people with special skills to operate and respond to large earthquakes and catastrophic events like floods and tsunamis and other unpredictable incidents.

"If we were to experience a Cascadia event, in which a number of our buildings in the downtown area collapsed, the goal would be to go in, search those buildings and rescue and evacuate people from there,” Heppel said. “Today, we don't have that capacity or that capability. While we're certainly going to respond, we don't have the equipment -- we don't have the training -- to sustain that type of team anymore."

Heppel said if an earthquake or natural disaster strikes in our area, it could be days if not a week before outside help would arrive. So, they've been trying to fill that void. They now have a Confined Space and Rope-Rescue Team that is made up of 22 members that are tasked to perform rescues in confined spaces like underground utility vaults as well as conduct rope rescues for people in the woods or even off of buildings.

David McNeil is the captain of the small team. He said he is one of the only members on the team that has training on how to respond to earthquakes.

"It's difficult because we have the same mission -- our mission hasn't changed,” McNeil said. “It's just the availability of equipment, and the availability of training and availability of people that's the problem."

Laura Hammond, a spokesperson with the city of Eugene, said they are working with state partners to restore funding to the program.

Hammond said the city does have emergency preparedness plans in place with a number of local partners like EWEB, Lane Electrics and local construction companies to help out in case of an emergency. She also said the city has invested in creating safer buildings, which they believe can significantly reduce the human and financial impact of a disaster.

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