Five Stages Of Rescue Operations In a Collapsed Building


The first stage is Reconnaissance which is divided into two parts, Information and Observation. The Information part is the gathering and documenting all of the available data to assist in making an intelligent rescue action plan.

This Data should include: • Time and all factors surrounding the collapse. • Numbers of persons suspected in building at the time of collapse. • Type of structure, date built, if blueprints are available, and if so, where. • Hazards known, and what can and is being done about them. • Service locations of power, water, gas, etc. • Number of persons who made it out before the structure collapsed and how they got out. • Number of persons who got out after collapse and how they got out, as well as the damage and injuries they noticed. • Local knowledge, is it available about the building, if so, who and where. • If a disaster plan was used during the collapse and it’s success. • Locations of dense populations in the building for that time of day. • Resources that could be used to assist in the rescue operation: tools, medical kits, fire equipment, etc. • Available rescuers and resources that are on site now. • Rescue resources that will be onsite and when • Rescue resources that can be called in and how. • Any other information that can be gathered prior to entering structure.


As the Stage 1 staff record all building data such as hazards and stability, the Stage 2 personnel mark exit routes and get walking wounded in the correct direction to get out to the triage area.

In Stage 2 personnel are also responsible for the assessment regarding victims trapped in the building. They will document and mark [spray paint] the locations and degree of entrapment of the trapped victims. No rescue is carried out in Stage 2 other than assisting the walking wounded to the triage area in the safe zone. This is because a large picture must be developed prior to rescuing anyone in the collapse, to ensure the right resources get to the most easily accessible persons first. Save as many (as fast as we can) before spending 15 hours for one person requiring 75 ton air bags.


Stage 3 involves the further exploration of survival points. The teams are now sent to the densely populated areas inside the building which only light entrapment is suspected. The stage 3 teams will take with them a very long line up of volunteers, all given single simple tasks. These tasks are: • Stretcher bearers [marked on their clothes with “S” front and back] • Debris haulers • Runners [marked with “R” front and back] • Tool persons Since there are so many persons that want to help and so much menial labour to be done, the volunteers are named with their function, and are taught only one task.  

The job of the Stage 3 search team is to get only lightly [very lightly] entrapped and unable to walk victims out, and locate and document voids that persons may be trapped in. These voids will not be searched at this time but will be well marked and documented for the next stages of the rescue. The primary goal of the Stage 3 teams is to find and remove all surface causalities. All Stage 3 teams should be in the safe zone prior to starting Stage 4. Most of the saveable casualties will be saved in Stage 3 if time is not spent attempting to get at trapped persons [voids]. It is imperative that the volunteers be equipped with the basic safety items to prevent wasting resources on helping them and that they are appropriately chosen for the task they are given to carry out.


Stage 4 involves exploration of voids and selected debris removal. The Stage 4 personnel will go to the highest probability of survival areas identified by the Stage 3 teams, starting with the area suspected to have the highest number of entrapped persons first. Once at these locations they will start a subsurface search for survivors. The search usually starts with a call and listen. A call and listen is carried out with voice or hammer. With the hammer method a pipe or beam appearing to go into the void in question which would transmit vibrations is struck solidly three times then a minute of silence is observed by all in the team. If required, the Stage 4 team will use small tools and light hydraulics for selected debris removal to gain access to the voids. Stage 4 teams will document any areas that will require further exploration with heavy equipment or rescue specialists. The same types of volunteers will be needed to follow the trained rescuers as were used in Stage 3. Often it is this stage that electronic subsurface search gear is used and those personnel operating this type of equipment will have special demands of the search teams. This must be discussed at the team briefing prior to starting the search areas. Stage 4 will require advanced urban search technicians, as they will be venturing into unstable areas of the building, and may be required to use technical equipment such as: S.C.B.A., Sniffers, Rope Gear, etc.


Stage 5 requires all teams evacuate the building and only one Stage 5 team is usually allowed to work in the structure at one time. This is due to the heavy equipment that will be used to gain access to all voids and subsurface areas that may contain casualties, alive or dead. The main objective of the highly trained Stage 5 rescuers is to systematically remove debris to gain access to the remaining victims.

The areas identified by the Stage 4 search teams will be prioritized by the rescue manager, then access will be gained to these areas via appropriate means, such as: • Heavy debris removal with Hydraulics. • Trenching or Tunnelling using cutting tools. • Lifting or moving large masses with crane or backhoe. • Forcing with Air Bags. • Burning through walls with Electric Oxygen Plasma Cutters • etc.