Skip to main content

Control measure
Request National Resilience resources for Urban Search and Rescue (USAR)

Control measure knowledge

The affected fire and rescue service is responsible for ensuring that responders have received appropriate awareness training in relation to the National Coordination Advisory Framework (NCAF), and the means of accessing specialist National Resilience (NR) capabilities, such as urban search and rescue (USAR). This is essential pre-incident knowledge for the affected fire and rescue service, as they are responsible for surveying the scene, assessing the impact of the incident, and requesting appropriate resources.

The affected fire and rescue service may need to request NR USAR assistance through National Resilience Fire Control (NRFC), whether they have assets within their own service, or require a greater level of response.

Operations to save life, prevent incident escalation or to provide humanitarian aid should not be delayed awaiting the attendance of USAR resources, subject to appropriate risk assessment. All operational personnel should apply USAR awareness training, be aware of the hazards associated with collapsed structures and the limits of initial responder actions, based on the condition of the structure.

Initial responders should commence the ‘Six Stages of Rescue’ as an approach to effective management of the incident until the arrival of USAR resources. Progression through the Six Stages of Rescue takes a considerable time, even at a small, single dwelling collapse. The tactical plan should take account of this, and the resources required, to achieve a safe and successful conclusion to the incident.

The Six Stages of Rescue are:

R Reconnaissance and survey

E Elimination of utilities

P Primary surface search and rescue

E Exploration of voids and spaces

A Access by selected debris removal

T Termination by general debris removal

For further information refer to the National Operational Guidance: Performing rescues.

It is also important that first responding crews adopt stage 1 structural monitoring, with safety officers watching the structure for movement, and where possible periodically take photographs for comparison to track movement. On arrival, USAR units will deploy specialist monitoring equipment and collate an audit trail of results of the monitoring to give an overview of the structural state of the site.

The primary focus for the USAR capability is to be equipped, trained and available to respond to large-scale events such as collapsed structures or major transport incidents.

The capability can also be used to support incidents including:

  • High-profile searches for missing persons
  • Responses to extreme medical cases requiring technical extrication
  • Support to other agencies, providing additional expertise and technical capability, such as confined space operations

USAR equipment includes:

  • Visual search equipment
  • Audible search equipment
  • Canine search
  • Breaking, breaching and cutting equipment
  • Shoring equipment
  • Lifting and moving equipment
  • Safety equipment
  • Communications equipment
  • Lighting equipment
  • Equipment for confined space operations
  • Safe work at height equipment
  • Medical equipment

Requesting National Resilience response

It may be beneficial for the affected fire and rescue service to seek guidance from the USAR capability team or a national tactical adviser (TacAd) prior to requesting assistance. Capability advice and national TacAds should be requested via the NRFC.

The request to the NRFC will prompt the mobilisation of National Resilience resources from one or more hosting fire and rescue services. The NRFC should provide an estimated time of arrival; this information will assist the incident commander in determining what level of initial operational response is required.

If the fire and rescue service incident commander believes the USAR capability is required, they should provide the following information to the NRFC:

  • Incident location
  • Type of incident
  • The approximate number of people involved
  • Scale of the incident
    • Approximate size
    • Footprint
    • Number of floors
  • Construction of the building if involved:
    • Light structure – light frame or traditional (un-reinforced) masonry construction
    • Medium structure – heavy timber, reinforced masonry, and modular concrete construction
    • Heavy structure – reinforced concrete or steel frame construction
  • Initial location for a rendezvous point (RVP), strategic holding area (SHA) or multi-agency strategic holding area (MASHA) – refer to www.gov.uk/government/publications/multi-agency-strategic-holding-areas-a-guide for further information

Additional information regarding the incident may be useful for the NRFC and USAR capability team, including:

  • Number of people confirmed trapped or missing
  • Occupancy – the number of possible occupants and likely locations
  • Occupancy type – children or adults
  • Time of day – refers to the time of the event that caused the building to collapse, which is a critical factor when combined with the occupancy number
  • Information from witnesses about known trapped casualties, or last known locations of potential casualties
  • The use of the structure
  • Possible cause, the current state of the structure (total collapse or partial collapse) and potential for further collapse
  • Main hazards and any involvement of damaged utilities
  • What actions have been taken already and the current tactical mode
  • Other agencies present

Incident commanders should also consider requesting other specialist resources, including:

  • Hazardous materials adviser or detection, identification and monitoring (DIM) capability to provide support to USAR operations
  • Hazardous Area Response Teams (HART) or the Special Operations Rescue Team (SORT)
  • Structural engineers
  • Utility providers
  • Mine or cave rescue teams

These requests are in addition to the need to send the standard informative and assistance messages; M/ETHANE is now the recognised common model for passing incident information

Strategic actions

Fire and rescue services should:
  • Ensure incident commanders have received awareness of the National Coordination Advisory Framework and specialist NR capabilities that can be provided

  • Have systems in place to request USAR advice and resources from the NRF

  • Ensure that personnel understand the use and limitations of USAR resources

Tactical actions

Incident commanders should:
  • Ensure that personnel understand the use and limitations of USAR resources

  • Establish the quantity and types of resources being provided and identify suitable locations for them – RVP, SHA or MASHA

  • Establish the estimated time of arrival for the NR resources

  • Consider requesting the attendance of other specialist resources