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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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After busiest year in its history, Task Force 1 remains ready for action

Photo by Courtesy

Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service’s Texas A&M Task Force 1 had a record number of deployments in 2018.

Search and rescue team Texas A&M Task Force 1 just completed its busiest year to date and is now preparing for a potentially flood-heavy 2019.
From hurricanes to tornadoes to flooding, the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service’s TX-TF1 had their hands full deploying volunteers across the state and nation a total of 18 times throughout 2018. As one of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s 28 sanctioned urban search and rescue teams, TX-TF1 helps people facing natural and man-made disasters.
While the team can be deployed by the state or federal government to help people affected by terrorist attacks, explosions, earthquakes and wildfires, most deployments in 2018 were a result of Texas’ extremely wet weather, said TX-TF1 director Jeff Saunders.
“We have responded to events during every month of the year, including tornadoes in December and flooding in April,” Saunders said in a statement. “Eighty percent of our deployments are water-related, and at least a third of our deployments have been outside hurricane season. For this reason, we train year-round, so we can respond at a moment’s notice, regardless of the season.”
Training manager and public information officer Stephen Bjune said water rescues are a major component of the job, but everyone is prepared for a wide variety of situations. The task force volunteers are self-sufficient for the first 72 hours of operation and can extend their functionality to 14 days when given outside support.
“We are an urban search and rescue team whose mission is to do the most good for the most people in the least amount of time,” Bjune said. “When disaster strikes, we are the ones who respond.”
The task force is preparing for a busy 2019 since major river systems are close to flooding levels due to the frequent rainfall. Bjune said he expects the high number of water rescues to continue since the El Niño weather pattern will likely bring more warm, wet weather.
TX-TF1 turns 22 this year, and Bjune said the task force’s presence continues to make the state a safer place.
“After the Oklahoma City explosion in 1995 that caused significant damage to the city, people in Texas started to ask, ‘What do we have if that happens here?’” Bjune said. “There isn’t anybody; we’d have to wait for responders from New Mexico or Tennessee, and that’s not a good answer.”
Since its establishment in 1997, the force has grown and been strengthened thanks to its proximity to the first responder training provided by TEEX, Bjune said.
“We are made up of all volunteers, almost 750 from all across the state, all who have day jobs: firefighters, police officers, engineers and medical personnel,” Bjune said. “It’s really incredible when you look at the amount of training in a year: 30,000 hours, and we pay for the cost of the training, but all other expenses — travel, food, board — are on them.”
Bjune said the team has been increasing its efficiency with the same budget since 2004. He said he believes TX-TF1 was properly prepared for the busy year they had in 2018 and is confident in its ability to tackle 2019’s new challenges.
“Because of support from A&M, our excellent members and our training, we have some of the best-trained responders in the nation,” Bjune said. “We stand ready to provide service to our state.”

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