Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009 marked the first official meeting of SWIFT, the Swift Water Incident / Flood Team -- a new, specially trained inter-agency strike team that can respond to water disasters locally, regionally and even nationally, thanks to special agreements at the state and federal level.
SWIFT comprises specially trained team members from the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office and Clackamas Fire District #1.
S.W.I.F.T. -- Fast Facts
Q. What is SWIFT? What can it do?
SWIFT stands for Swift Water Incident / Flood Team.
- It's a specially trained inter-agency strike team. It can respond to water disasters locally, regionally and even nationally -- thanks to special agreements at the state and federal level.
- SWIFT comprises specially trained members from the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office and Clackamas Fire District #1.
- Currently, there are only just over 20 of these types of teams in the United States.
- It can be deployed by Oregon Emergency Management.
Q. When was the idea for SWIFT first proposed?
Clackamas County personnel lent their water-rescue expertise to a national disaster. Those personnel quickly saw the need for a new kind of water-rescue team -- one that's integrated, flexible, and fast.
SWIFT was designed to address the following issues:
- Urban Search and Rescue teams are not ideally suited for flood response -- although they may have a role to play in a major disaster.
- In disaster response, there is a need for specially-trained, blended-discipline "special ops"-style strike teams.
- These teams needed to be integrated, flexible, and fast.
- These teams also needed to be able to identify and handle unusual risks.
- Co-location and evacuation were major problems. For example: How does a team handle it when people won't leave their homes without their pets?
Q. How were SWIFT partner agencies approached?
In a way, the idea was a relatively easy sell here -- because a multi-agency rescue team is already in place in Clackamas County. The Clackamas County Water Rescue Consortium is a group of local emergency-response agencies who've been coordinating water rescues for years.
- The Water Rescue Consortium agencies already have close ties and effective response strategies.
- During Katrina, it became very apparent that the Water Rescue Consortium's integrated model would have been most effective in the disaster area "hot zone."
- SWIFT organizers researched flood response "best practices." During that research, it became obvious that it was natural to build upon the Water Rescue Consortium's excellent, already-existing relationships.
- We could use our training and experience for local, regional and statewide benefit.
Q. Why are the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office and Clackamas Fire District #1 ideally suited to form SWIFT?
- The two agencies have already trained together, and have the required skills, expertise and equipment.
- The two agencies have established relationships and protocols -- including training together and providing cross-training.
- The two agencies already possess much of the required equipment for SWIFT disaster operations.
- SWIFT provides exciting opportunities for both agencies to gain more specialized experience and enhance inter-operability.
- The Clackamas County Water Rescue Consortium -- of which both agencies are members -- is Oregon's largest, most experienced and qualified multi-agency water-rescue team.
- The two agencies have the unique ability to deploy to a disaster area without stripping Clackamas County of water-rescue assets.
Q. Why do we need a team like SWIFT in the Pacific Northwest?
- There have been 14 major flood events -- over 40 feet -- on the lower Willamette River in past 125 years.
- Recent flood responses have exhausted local resources. This was most dramatically demonstrated during the Vernonia flood of 2007.
- Clackamas County's neighbors lack sufficient resources for long operations. Recent examples: Tillamook and Seattle in 2008. Chehalis and Clark County in 2009.
- The 65-69 age group population is growing fast -- and it's the one of the most vulnerable groups during a major disasters. They are less mobile, more vulnerable to the elements and require care and accommodation of any specific needs during rescue and evacuation.
- Other vulnerable citizens -- including the mentally ill and infirm -- are most likely to need rescue, evacuation and medical help during a disaster scenario.
Q. How are the costs covered?
- For in-state operations, costs are recovered through inter-governmental agreements. These agreements are worked out before an emergency happens.
- We've adopted proven cost-recovery models. Here's what means: These models allow us to estimate the actual cost of deployment. A local government asking for SWIFT's help would then know in advance the anticipated cost per day -- allowing them to plan accordingly and reimburse SWIFT.
- Costs for inter-state aid are covered through EMAC -- the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.
- EMAC is a congressionally ratified organization. It provides form and structure to interstate mutual aid.
- Through EMAC, a disaster-impacted state can request and receive assistance from other member states quickly and efficiently, resolving two key issues upfront -- liability and reimbursement.
Here's an example of EMAC at work:
- A governor of a disaster-afflicted state declares an emergency.
- That state's emergency-management agency assesses needs.
- The state requests assistance through the EMAC network.
- Other states then provide assistance through the EMAC network. This can include SWIFT.
- EMAC provides for use of local resources, repayment of costs, and liability protection in state and federal deployments.
- EMAC is administered by NEMA, the National Emergency Management Association.
Q. How might a sample SWIFT deployment go?
- If another governmental agency within Oregon (with whom we have an Inter-Governmental Agreement) needs help, they would contact Oregon Emergency Management directly.
- After being dispatched to the location by Oregon Emergency Management, SWIFT would respond with appropriate amount of manpower and equipment.
- The SWIFT team is designed to be self-sustaining on a rescue site for three days. The team shouldn't need any additional supplies for 72 hours; after that, it would require support.
Q. What sort of training do SWIFT members need?
SWIFT members have to be trained in a number of different areas to enhance their flexibility, including:
- HAZMAT training (to the Operations level)
- Swiftwater-rescue (at the Technician level)
- Being able to work with helicopters and boats
- Animal rescue
- Incident command system
- The "National Response Framework" (a protocol for inter-agency cooperation)
- Risk assessment
- Hazard mitigation
- Use of protective equipment
- Minimum of First Responder training (that's just under the EMT Basic level of training)
- Up to Class 3 rapids
- Active and passive search techniques
- GPS, map and compass
- Night operations
- Technical rope rescue