New INSARAG accredited USAR team for Spain

Published:  07 March, 2013

Many countries have specialized operational units for responding to major structural collapse incidents, universally known as Urban Search and Rescue teams. Fully operational and equipped USAR units exist in 20 European countries, two in the Middle East, two in the Pacific region and four in Asia, and in the USA there are 28 Task Forces located around the country. writes George Potter.

The Spanish USAR capability began in the year 2010 when the Spanish Military Emergency Unit – UME established their specialised unit. However, the Regional fire service of the Madrid Autonomous Region had organised what was known as ERIC, Equipo de Rápida Intervención en Catástrofes – Rapid Intervention in Catastrophes Team in 2007, Soon afterwards, the regional medical intervention unit, EIS, joined the group followed by four of the canine search units existing in the region. The official name of the group is now ERICAM, Emergencia y Respuesta Inmediata de la Comunidad de MadridImmediate Emergency and Response Team of the Madrid Region, and apart from the UME team, the only USAR team in Spain officially recognized and accredited by the United Nations International Search and Rescue Advisory Group – INSARAG. This certification was approved in 2011 on surpassing the rigorous 36-hour INSARAG exam.

The organization of the ERICAM was the logical evolution based on the multiple experiences of the Madrid regional fire service, which provided assistance during the earthquakes in Mexico (1985), El Salvador (2001), Turkey and Algeria (2003) and Morocco (2004). Those actions were individual efforts taken on by the regional fire service but at best with very little coordination with other national or international search and rescue entities.

The concept of organised and specialised urban search and rescue units goes back to the early 1980’s when the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department and the Metro-Dade County Fire Department (both in the USA) created search and rescue teams to intervene in rescue operations in collapsed buildings. The U.S. State Department and the Office of Foreign Disaster Aid requested the assistance of these two teams in the earthquakes in Mexico City in 1985 and in Leninakan (then USSR) in 1988 and Luzon, Philippines in 1990. The success of these units in these catastrophes warranted that the Federal Emergency Management Agency – FEMA, created the National Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) Response System in 1989. Since then, the US&R has grown to 28 units located all across the United States.

As a result of the demonstrated effectiveness of the concept in response to 20 major disasters in the USA and overseas including seven earthquakes, seven hurricanes, three terrorist attacks and two major accidental explosions, the USAR model has served as a base for similar units in so many other countries. In the UK for example, there are 20 USAR teams including four located in London alone. The English fire and rescue services are required by law to deal with An emergency involving the collapse of a building or other structure.


The term, Urban Search and Rescue – USAR, has been adopted by the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group – INSARAG, of the United Nations to signify an urban Search and Rescue team all over the world regardless of the language spoken. Thusly, apart from the 29 fully accredited countries with their USAR teams, some 50 other countries also have some kind of response capabilities for intervention in major disasters, from earthquakes to terrorist bombings, including hurricanes, major floods and even wildland fires.

The overall activities of a USAR team can be broken down into four major areas:

-          Search – location of entrapped victims

-          Rescue – extrication of the victims and their removal to save locations for posterior medical attention

-          Technical – structural specialists as required to assure safe and secure working environments in which search and rescue tasks can be undertaken

-          Medical – medical attention and treatment for team, canine and victims before, during and after the incident

Canine search teams are usually incorporated into the USAR teams, facilitating the localization of victims that may be entirely buried under rubble and debris.

The principle characteristics of the Spanish ERICAM team can be resumed as follows:

-          Availability: permanent, 24 hours a day every day of the year

-          Mobilization time: maximum 4 hours

-          Response area: National (Spain) and international (wherever required)

-          Overseas autonomy: 7 days

-          Group size: Variable according to the nature of the incident (12 to 34 members depending on specific speciality requirements)

The ERICAM is composed of approximately 200 fire and rescue service professionals of the Madrid Regional Fire and Rescue Service, and when needed search and rescue dogs and their respective handlers. All are volunteers.

-          ERIC – Some 140 fire fighters and officers, all specifically trained and experienced in structural collapse and urban rescue. The unit is equipped with specific and specialised tools and equipment, including special mobile apparatus as required for intervention in catastophes. The unit is headquartered in the Madrid Regional Fire and Rescue central station in Las Rozas, about 20 miles west of the region’s capitol, Madrid. Personnel are on specific duty tours 24 hours, 365 days of the year.

-          EIS – Some 60 emergency medical specialists including doctors and personnel similar to EMT’s make up the medical assistance group. All of these are also volunteers.

-          Canine Search Teams – Four canine teams form this branch according to specific protocols with the regional government. At any given time, two teams of two dogs and handlers are immediately available.

The ERICAM personnel are prepared to respond with their own material resources to a wide variety of major incidents, including:

-          Earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions

-          Hurricanes and tornados

-          Massive floods

-          Massive earth movements

-          Major structural collapse incidents associated or not with terrorist attacks

-          Major wildland fires

-          Major industrial fires and/or explosions

-          Logistical support to medical assistance teams and to local population

To date, the ERICAM has intervened in several major emergency situations including:

▪ 2007

-          Wildland fire on the Tenerife Island

▪ 2008

-          Wildland fire in the Segovia province

-          Wildland fire in the Valencia region

-          Wildland fire in the Guadalajara province

▪ 2009

-          Wildland fire in the Teruel province

-          Wildland fire in the Ávila province

▪ 2010

-          Earthquake in Haiti

-          Earthquake in Chile

▪ 2011

-          Earthquake in Lorca (Spain)

Now that ERICAM has received the INSARAG certification, it can be expected that the unit will respond to more major catastrophies, especially those occurring overseas. The leader of the ERICAM is Annika Coll Eriksson, an Officer in the Madrid Regional Fire and Rescue Service and a licensed architect. She is one of the very few females in Spanish fire services, but has demonstrated many times in her career her leadership qualities and professionalism.

  • Operation Florian

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