Local rescue team responds to Katrina disaster

At the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 28 Washington Urban Search & Rescue Task Force (WAFT1) team members departed today for the Gulf of Mexico region devastated by Katrina, the monster hurricane that struck the southern states Monday, Aug. 29.

The team of rescue specialists will travel in buses and trucks to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Taking equipment and drinking water, they will join two other WAFT1 team members who responded to an earlier FEMA call for assistance.

WAFT1, activated at what FEMA calls Stage III, will provide expertise in these areas:

— Physical search and rescue (including water rescue);

— Emergency medical care to trapped victims;

— Search and rescue canines;

— Assessment and control of gas, electric service and hazardous materials;

— Evaluation and stabilization of damaged structures.

Emergency Management Director Steve Bailey said Pierce County welcomed the call for assistance. “This is what our training is all about — to be able to help when needed.”

Pierce County Emergency Management sponsors WATF1, which is composed of more than 200 emergency responders from Pierce and King counties, Tacoma, Seattle and other jurisdictions. It maintains a 24-hour deployment readiness status.

WATF1, established in 1991, was mobilized for the Shuttle Columbia recovery, Pentagon and World Trade Center attacks, Atlanta Olympics, Oklahoma City federal courthouse bombing, Northridge, CA earthquake, and Typhoon Bryan in Guam.