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  • ‘Japan Disaster Relief Team: 30 Years On’ Part 1: Highly Rated Search and Rescue Team Assists After Mexico Quake


October 4, 2017

‘Japan Disaster Relief Team: 30 Years On’ Part 1: Highly Rated Search and Rescue Team Assists After Mexico Quake

photoMembers of the Japan Disaster Relief Search and Rescue Team bound for earthquake-struck Mexico at Narita Airport on Sept. 21

Around 3:15 a.m. Japan time on Sept. 20, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake took place in central Mexico. At the request of the government of Mexico, the government of Japan that day decided to dispatch the Japan Disaster Relief (JDR) Search and Rescue Team. On the afternoon of Sept. 21, the SAR team, wearing orange and blue uniforms, flew from Japan bound for Mexico, where it conducted search and rescue operations in central Mexico City from Sept. 22 to 25.

Five teams, including Search and Rescue and Medical, with JICA serving as the secretariat

It has been 30 years since the enactment of the Law Concerning Dispatch of JDR Team, which is the legal basis for the activities of the JDR team. The team has worked at the sites of major disasters including the recent Mexican earthquake; the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami; the 2008 Sichuan earthquake; and Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines in 2013. The JDR team consists of a SAR Team, a Medical Team, an Infectious Disease Response Team, an Expert Team and Japanese Self-Defense Force units. Single or multiple teams are dispatched depending on the type and scale of the disaster and the requests of the government of the affected country. The JDR team, operated by the Secretariat of JDR Team JICA, continues to evolve 30 years after its founding.

Heading for disaster sites with generators, power cutters and rescue dogs

The SAR team dispatched for the Mexico earthquake consisted of 72 people. They took a lot of equipment with them, including power generators, lighting equipment and power cutters. Four rescue dogs and their handlers accompanied the team.

photoThe SAR Team on Sept. 22 in Mexico City in the wake of the earthquake

photoThe SAR Team searches for people left behind while staying safe at the site of the April 2015 Nepal earthquake

The first task confronting the SAR Team when it arrives at a site is securing its own safety. In the April 2015 Nepal earthquake, the team worked at the site of collapsed brick buildings. The team transported bricks by hand, and to search for people left in the collapsed building, it made a hole in the leaning third-floor section and used it to send a camera into the lower floors.

"The vibration from the equipment for cutting a hole in the floor made the whole building seem to shake," said team member Toshiyasu Sumikawa, an officer of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department.

To secure the team's safety near the collapsed buildings, experts on evaluating the structures of buildings joined the team and worked alongside it.

Practical training on everything from search & rescue to medical care and logistics

photoThe SAR Team works at the site of a 2003 earthquake in Algeria. Together, Japanese and Turkish rescuers successfully extricated a man

The team was formed in response to two disasters that occurred in 1985: an earthquake in Mexico and a volcanic eruption in Colombia. Though medical teams were dispatched, it became clear that a comprehensive structure that includes experts on search & rescue and disaster response is needed for emergency relief. The SAR Team was dispatched for the first time in response to a 1990 earthquake in Iran, and this most recent dispatch was its 20th.

The SAR Team is responsible for finding and rescuing victims and giving first aid during major disasters. The SAR Team is made up of police, firefighters, members of the Japan Coast Guard, and coordinators at JICA responsible for logistics. In 2010, the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group classified the SAR Team as "heavy,” the highest level. This classification is only given to high-capacity teams that can work at two separate locations at the same time and work in the collapsed parts of buildings and other structure.

The team undergoes comprehensive training twice a year to improve its rescue skills. Using a scenario similar to an actual disaster, members learn how to rescue people from a building threatening to collapse and how to maintain equipment. The Medical Team learns how to provide medical care to people trapped in a building.

The team was recertified as heavy in 2015 after maintaining its high capacity level and continually working to improve through this kind of training.

The government and people of Mexico showed deep gratitude to the SAR Team — which has continued to accumulate experience and evolve — for its work at the site of the Mexico earthquake.

(This is the first article in a four-part series. The second will be posted on Oct. 10.)

photoCoordinators also improve their skills through training. They are responsible for such logistical tasks as maintaining and transporting equipment, arranging for interpreters and coordinating with international agencies


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